Avenatti defends disclosures on Michael Cohen finances
Michael Avenatti, Stormy Danielsâ attorney, says he was exercising his free speech rights on a matter of critical importance to the American public when he released details last week about large corporate payments to President Donald Trumpâs longtime personal at torney, Michael Cohen.
Cohenâs attorneys have blasted the disclosure as an outrageous and reckless act that invaded their clientâs privacy and linked him to some payments in which he had no involvement. Suggesting that Avenatti might have broken the law, Cohenâs lawyers urged a federal judge in New York to deny Avenatti permission to take part in litigation over records seized from Cohenâs home, office and hotel room last month in FBI raids executing search warrants.
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However, Avenatti responded on Monday that his revelations about more than $1 million paid to Cohen by companies like AT&T, Novartis and Columbus Nova were no reason to block him from joining in the legal case over how the records seized from the presidentâs attorney will be handled.
âMr. Avenatti is clearly protected by First Amendment rights of free speech to publish information on matters that, without seriou s dispute, are of the utmost public concern,â Avenatti wrote in a brief submitted to U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood. âIn fact, in less than 48 hours after it was published, more than 99 percent of the payments to Mr. Cohen listed in the report were proven accurate either by other reporting or by the entities themselves that made the payments.â
Avenattiâs filing, submitted three days before a deadline the judge set, was a tacit acknowledgment that some payments in the report he issued last week were misattributed. Another Michael Cohen, who is a Canadian citizen, has said some of those transfers involved him. Treasury Department authorities have also launched an internal investigation into whether the information Avenatti obtained was illegally leaked. Whatever that inquiry may find, it is typically lawful to publish information received from someone else, even if that person may not have had the authority to release it or broke the law by doing so.
Avenatt iâs client, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is an adult film star who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels in an apparent bid to keep her silent about the alleged episode. Daniels is suing Trump and Cohen in federal court in Los Angeles to have the âhush moneyâ deal declared invalid.
Avenatti has said Daniels has an interest in Cohenâs records because they discuss her and include exchanges with Danielsâ former attorney, Keith Davidson. Avenatti has said Davidson appears to have been too close to Cohen to represent Danielsâ interests.
Avenatti noted in his Monday filing that the report he released had triggered significant developments, with AT&T calling its hiring of Cohen a âmistakeâ and a senior AT&T executive resigning. Some other payments not listed in the report were also made public as journalists pressed the co mpanies to detail their relationship with Cohen, who was never a registered lobbyist.
âThat Mr. Cohen may be dismayed that these damaging revelations have come to light and have been proven true does not come remotely close to justifying a denial of Mr. Avenattiâs right to appear before this Court,â Avenatti wrote. âAs discussed in her motion to intervene, Ms. Clifford has very important and legitimate interests in protecting her records. She should not be denied counsel from representing and advancing those interests based on Mr. Cohenâs embarrassment resulting from discomforting information being made public.â