Heavyweight lawyers square up on Trump battlefield
A roster of big names are lined up as the US president faces a whirlwind of courtroom challenges
Big-name lawyers are duking it out as Donald Trump braves two storms threatening his rocky presidency: the Russia election meddling probe and adult film actress Stormy Daniels’s allegations that she had a steamy fling with him.
The battles have featured some headline-grabbing casualties — a big deal considering that defending the US president would seem to be an attorney’s dream assignment.
The roster of heavyweight lawyers at the heart of the legal fights looks like this: Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti has piercing blue eyes, a golden California tan and a life fuelled by adrenaline rushes.He has vowed to be Trump’s worst nightmare by making him fess up to the sexual encounter the actress says she had in 2006 with the president. Trump denies it.A professional race car driver and frequenter of jet-set outings and the Grand Prix circuit, on his law firm’s website he displays pictures that boast of his passion for racing.
But he is also a feared presence in the halls of justice. The bachelor, in his 40s, has a lucrative business litigation practice. Last year, he won a fraud conviction and $454-million in damages for clients in a class-action suit involving defective surgical gowns manufactured by the firm Kimberly-Clark.'It's just the beginning'
Avenatti has accused Trump of lying when he denies claims made by Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. But this lawyer, who positively loves TV cameras, says that’s not the worst part. Rather, Daniels is threatened all the time by the Trump legal team.
Avenatti also says a non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2016 with Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is not valid because the president himself did not sign it.“It is just the beginning,” said Avenatti. “We have a whole host of evidence. This is not going away. And Mr Cohen better come clean for the American people, and they better do it quickly.”
He promised bombshell revelations over the next few weeks and months. Recently, Avenatti tweeted a photo of a CD, suggesting he might have compromising photos of the president.
Avenatti is backed by the legal watchdog Common Cause, which has filed a suit accusing Cohen of violating campaign finance laws by paying $130,000 to Daniels just days before the 2016 election.
“This was a payment to influence an election. It should have been reported by the Trump campaign. It was not. That’s violation number one of federal campaign financing law,” said Paul Ryan of Common Cause.“Then violation number two is that Michael Cohen is only allowed to give $2,700 to a US candidate. He effectively gave $130,000 to Donald Trump through this in-kind contribution by paying Stormy Daniels to stay quiet.”
Cohen is Trump’s longtime personal attorney and has been described as defending him like a pit bull. The Long Island native used to be a Democrat before switching to the Republicans. He has invested in several Trump real estate deals and started working for the Trump Organisation in the 2000s. He would go on to become a Trump spokesman during the presidential race.
“I will always protect Mr Trump,” said Cohen, who has admitted paying Daniels $130,000 in what she says was hush money.In 2015, Cohen threatened a reporter from the Daily Beast who had contacted him over accusations by former wife Ivana Trump that compared their sex life to rape.
“You write a story that has Mr Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape’, and I’m going to mess your life up,” Cohen was reported as saying.Trump said last week that lots of top-flight lawyers were willing to defend him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign in 2016, and whether Trump has tried to obstruct this investigation.
But actually, his legal team has been reduced to “a one-man army”, as the New York Times put it.That one man is Jay Sekulow, a conservative who specialises in religious freedom cases.
John Dowd, the attorney who had led the team, has resigned, reportedly because Trump was ignoring his advice.
That resignation reinforced the image of a White House in wild disarray. Two other big-name lawyers said to be joining the team — Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing — have since announced they will not after all.
Another Washington lawyer, Theodore Olson, turned down an invitation to defend Trump. He defended George W Bush in the court saga over the disputed results of the 2000 election against Al Gore.
In the shadow of these two big cases there is another attorney who is among the most renowned in America. She is Gloria Allred, who is representing a woman named Summer Zervos, who accuses Trump of kissing her forcibly in 2007.
The statute of limitations applies here, so Allred has sued Trump for defamation of character.
A judge in New York last rejected arguments by Trump’s team and said the proceedings can move forward.