Avenatti Hits Back Against WSJ Claims Of Stonewalling Feds In Cohen Case

Update: Avenatti responded to the WSJ report, suggesting that the story was "completely bogus and designed to undercut us." 

"Any media report citing 'unnamed sources' (and not a single document) suggesting we are delaying the investigation into Mr. Cohen and DJT is completely false and without basis," he tweeted Tuesday morning. "We have already waived the privilege as to a host of docs and communications to ensure justice is done."

Avenatti then tweeted that the WSJ had been sitting on the story, and that Stormy Daniels' former attorney, Keith Davidson, had lied to them. He used the hashtag #Bastadropbox along with a link to a November 2, 2016 email exchange between the WSJ's Joe Palazzo - who wrote Sunday's article, and Davidson.

Avenatti also said that he had been communicating with federal prosecutors on "a regular basis as part of our cooperation" with the government investigation. 

"It has been delayed by the refusal of people to promptly turn over docs for our review," he wrote. "If necessary, we will file suit against them."

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EARLIER

Michael Avenatti has been frustrating federal prosecutors in their attempts to obtain information related to a $130,000 October 2016 payment made by President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen to adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, who Avenatti represents. 

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal says that Avenatti has "slowed prosecutors' efforts" to speak with Clifford's former attorney to discuss a nondisclosure agreement over an alleged 2006 sexual encounter between Clifford and Trump. 

Ms. Clifford has recently said she agreed to the $130,000 deal with Mr. Cohen in 2016 not for the money, but because she feared for her family’s safety. That fear, she said, was based on a threat she received from an unidentified man who told her to “leave Trump alone” when a magazine nearly published her story several years earlier.

...

But in the communications sought by prosecutors, Ms. Clifford didn’t mention being threatened or fearing for her safety before making the deal with Mr. Cohen, according to people familiar with the situation. Rather, she was trying actively to sell her story to various outlets, these people say.

Mr. Avenatti called that account “patently false,” and said Ms. Clifford spoke of the threat to many people before executing the hush agreement. -WSJ

Michael Cohen is currently under criminal investigation over potential fraud and campaign-finance violations related to the payment of Clifford. On April 9 his home, office and hotel suite were raided by federal prosecutors at the request of special counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, while President Trump has denied having sex with Clifford. 

Mr. Avenatti hasn’t yet acted on multiple requests from federal prosecutors in Manhattan for Ms. Clifford to waive the attorney-client privilege that prevents her former lawyer from discussing their communications about the nondisclosure deal, the people familiar with the matter said. In April, Mr. Avenatti, acting in his capacity as Ms. Clifford’s current lawyer, sent a cease-and-desist letter to her former lawyer, Keith Davidson, ordering him not to disclose any communications related to her, one of those people said.

Mr. Avenatti made similar demands of Ms. Clifford’s former manager, Gina Rodriguez, who helped engineer the hush-money deal. Mr. Avenatti tried to block Ms. Rodriguez from providing her communications with Ms. Clifford to federal prosecutors until he had reviewed them, other people familiar with the matter said. -WSJ

Federal prosecutors believe Avenatti has been stringing them along after telling them he is trying to get Clifford to waive her attorney-client privilege, according to the people familiar with the matter. While the delays aren't seen as highly damaging to their investigation, they have reportedly grown frustrated. 

Avenatti said on Monday that he and Clifford have "cooperated fully" with government prosecutors, and that they are still "ironing out the details" over reviewing documents he has sought from Davidson, along with whether to waive privilege.  

“We have already started producing documents to the government so any suggestion we are not cooperating is meritless,” Mr. Avenatti said.

He also accused Stormy's former lawyer of "conspiring behind her back with Mr. Cohen," which Keith Davidson denies.

As Ms. Clifford’s former lawyer, Mr. Davidson has information that could be important to the investigation, because he spoke to Mr. Cohen extensively while negotiating the nondisclosure agreement during Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Ms. Rodriguez also worked closely with Ms. Clifford on the deal. Through her lawyer, she has turned over to prosecutors her text messages and emails with Ms. Clifford since 2016 in response to a subpoena, over Mr. Avenatti’s objections, other people said. -WSJ

Avenatti said in an emailed statement to the Journal that Rodriguez's communications with Clifford are covered by attorney-client privilege because she was acting as a go-between for Clifford and Davidson. He also said that he had a right to review the documents and would sue Rodriguez if she would not provide them for review. 

“We never told her not to provide documents to the government nor did we tell her not to cooperate,” Mr. Avenatti said.

Law professor Steven Lubet of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law told the Journal that Rodriguez's communications with Clifford would only be protected if they were to convey legal advice from, or giving direction to, Davidson. 

Avenatti also denies threatening Rodriguez to enforce at 2016 nondisclosure agreement between the manager and Clifford which prevents the former manager from speaking publicly about her work with the former porn star. “That never happened. Period,” he said.

Given his history of threatening journalists over unfavorable coverage, and his wife's court testimony that he's "emotionally abusive," one has to wonder what Avenatti will say next.