The war of words between Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti is heating up again -- with the president’s long-time fixer accusing Avenatti of violating ethical and professional rules of conduct -- and seeking to preclude him from participating in Cohen’s court case.
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“Mr. Avenatti appears to be primarily focused on smearing Mr. Cohen publicly in his efforts to further his own interest in garnering as much media attention as possible,” wrote Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen in a court filing late Friday.
The former personal attorney for President Donald Trump is asking U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood to take the rare step of denying Avenatti’s application to be heard in the case, which is focused on materials seized in the April 9 raids on Cohen’s New York properties.
Avenatti -- who represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels -- is not licensed to practice in federal court in Manhattan, so he must first seek court approval before he can appear in the case. He has argued he has a right to take part, in order to protect Daniels’ interests in potentially privileged communications about her non-disclosure agreement that may have been swept up in the raids.
Such applications are routinely granted for attorneys in good-standing in their home states, but Cohen’s attorneys assert that “this is an exceptional case.”
Daniels -- whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford -- alleges she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump denies the allegations.
Much of Cohen’s argument centers on the public release by Avenatti of information from confidential banking records, which revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting payments to Cohen, including some from blue-chip corporations that began around the time Trump was assuming the White House.
Avenatti described some of the transactions as “suspicious” and possibly “fraudulent and illegal.”
While most of the details in the records were confirmed publicly by the companies, the report also contained some errors, including transactions that appear to be related to other people with the same name as Cohen.
“When confronted with his reckless publishing of inaccurate allegations and the improper release of the private banking information of completely unrelated individuals, Mr. Avenatti did not apologize for, correct, or retract the incorrect information he had published,” Cohen’s court filing states. “Mr. Avenatti’s conduct…was inappropriate and was intended to unfairly prejudice Mr. Cohen. This should be extremely troubling to the Court.”
Cohen’s filing also alleges that Avenatti had “failed to disclose” a pending [California Bar Association] investigation into his conduct. The claim is based on a complaint filed with the state bar in a matter unrelated to Avenatti’s work for Daniels, and on a FOX News report which cites a letter “verifying the existence of the investigation.”
Within hours of that allegation being filed with the court on Friday, Avenatti fired back, disputing the claim.
“I am not aware of the State Bar having made any determination that any pending complaint has any sufficient basis warranting inquiry of me or investigation, let alone disciplinary proceedings,” Avenatti wrote in a court filing. “Mr. Cohen appears to rely on a form letter referenced in a FOX news article to support his allegations. This is not evidence.”
Avenatti -- who has been a near-ubiquitous presence on cable news programs over the last two months -- has dismissed the mistakes in the banking records as inconsequential. He told ABC News last week that “about 99.35 percent of the information that we released is right. You know what? I’ll take that.”
And he has countered in court filings that he should not be prevented from representing Daniels’ interests in the case “based on Mr. Cohen’s embarrassment resulting from discomforting information being made public.”
“Mr. Cohen cites no legal authority that overrides Mr. Avenatti’s First Amendment rights to make public information about a public figure like Mr. Cohen regarding matters that are, without dispute, of the utmost public concern,” Avenatti wrote in a court filing on Monday.
But Cohen’s lawyers argue that Avenatti had no legal right to possess the banking records. And they cite a report in the New Yorker on Wednesday which revealed that the records, which appear to be sourced from confidential Suspicious Activity Reports -- or SARs -- were leaked by a current law enforcement official.
Cohen’s attorneys implored Wood to question Avenatti about how he came to possess the information.
“We believe that it is vital that the Court inquire as to where Mr. Avenatti obtained the SARs report(s) and related nonpublic bank records of Mr. Cohen,” Cohen’s filing states. “They were purloined from protected federal agency files and made public by Mr. Avenatti. If he fails to answer, he should not be admitted ... in this proceeding before the Court.”
Avenatti claimed Friday Cohen had failed to produce any evidence that he ever possessed the confidential records or that he purposely released information from those reports related to Cohen.
Wood has not indicated when she will rule on Avenatti’s application. A hearing is scheduled in Cohen’s case for May 24.
If Cohen’s lawyers get their way, Avenatti will not be permitted to be a participant.
“To our knowledge, this Court has never been presented with clearer evidence of the deliberate creation of a carnival atmosphere and inappropriate conduct while an attorney’s application for admission was pending,” Cohen’s filing states. “Moreover, this is an unprecedented attack on an individual who has not been charged with any crime.”