Porn star Stormy Daniels’ media-loving lawyer was reprimanded Wednesday by a federal judge who said his “publicity tour” must end if he wants a formal role in the case regarding the investigation of Michael Cohen.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge Kimba Wood said that Michael Avenatti’s frequent comments in the press regarding President Trump’s personal attorney were improper.
If Avenatti intervenes in the case over the April 9 FBI raid on Cohen’s law office and residences, Wood said, he’d have to change his tune.
“You cannot declare your opinion as to Mr. Cohen’s guilt, which you did. You would not be able to give publicity to documents,” Wood said.
“You’re entitled to publicity. I can’t stop you – unless you’re participating in a matter before me.”
Cohen’s attorney Todd Harrison said that his team had reviewed 1.3 million of Cohen’s files out of 3.7 million that had been turned over by the government. A retired judge, known as a special master, is assisting in disputes over what material is subject to attorney-client privilege.
The government is also piecing together the contents of a paper shredder, which will be turned over to Cohen’s team within three weeks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Maimin said.
The ongoing review must be complete by June 15, Wood said. Any remaining material will be turned over to a government “taint team” to determine what it is subject to attorney-client privilege. Such a designation means the documents are not immediately fair game for prosecutors investigating Cohen for campaign finance law violations, as well as bank and wire fraud. Cohen previously opposed a taint team protocol.
“It’s important for the court to balance the slow, deliberate needs of those asserting attorney-client privilege with the need for an investigation to go forward,” Wood said.
But much of the fireworks during the hour-long proceeding revolved around Avenatti, who has managed to insert himself into the case despite not having been granted a formal role. Material in the Cohen trove could shed light on the $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election, he argues. The money was intended to keep Daniels quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump in 2006.
Among other moves not typical of an attorney, Avenatti posted on Twitter a leaked Treasury Department document showing Cohen’s bank records.
“It was a drive-by shooting of anyone named Michael Cohen!” Cohen attorney Stephen Ryan said, becoming red in the face as he criticized Avenatti.
“We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Wood did not rule whether Avenatti can intervene in the Cohen case, but she noted that he’d already influenced the proceeding.
“I want you to participate or not be in the matter at all. I don’t want you to be in some sort of limbo where you’re able to denigrate Mr. Cohen,” she said.
“This conduct is inimical to eventually giving Mr. Cohen a fair trial,” Wood added, speaking hypothetically. Cohen has not been charged in the probe into his financial dealings.
Avenatti countered that Ryan’s focus on the bankruptcy of his previous law firm and criticism of his active Twitter account was ironic, given Trump’s own history of financial trouble and penchant for publicity.
“Mr. Trump has had his own fair share of bankruptcies over the years and those haven’t disqualified him in various contexts,” Avenatti said.
“(Trump) has tweeted about this matter in great detail. The irony of that, your honor, is palpable.”
After the hearing concluded, Avenatti tweeted about a recorded phone conversation presumably contained in the Cohen trove that a reporter had revealed to him last week. In it, Avenatti said, Daniels’ former attorney Keith Davidson discussed privileged matters with Cohen. Without going into detail, Avenatti indicated that Davidson had not been acting in his client’s best interests.