Stormy Daniels' lawyer: Case against Donald Trump 'grows stronger' due to 'buffoonery' of president's defenders
Trump's representatives say he denies having an affair with Daniels.
by Dan Mangan
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, said Thursday that her legal battle against President Donald Trump is getting help from an unusual source: David Schwartz, the attorney for Trump's own personal lawyer.
And Avenatti is not alone in that view.
A number of other legal experts said that Schwartz's comments Wednesday night in a TV interview may have both damaged Trump's case and put Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen at risk of ethical sanctions.
Schwartz represents Cohen, who has admitted paying Daniels $130,000 just days before the 2016 presidential election to sign an agreement that barred her from publicly discussing what she has said was a tryst with Trump a decade earlier.
Representatives for Trump have said he denies any such affair with the porn actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Daniels is suing Trump to have that agreement declared void, on the grounds that he never signed it. Both Daniels and the limited liability corporation created by Cohen, Essential Consultants, signed the deal.
Trump and Cohen plan to ask that Daniels' case be decided by a private arbitrator and to have her sanctioned for $20 million for violating the terms of the agreement.
"The president was not aware of the agreement," Schwartz told CNN on Wednesday. "At least, Michael Cohen never told him about the agreement."
Schwartz added: "Michael Cohen left the option open. That's why he left the signature line open to go to him [Trump]. He chose not to bind the LLC, EC LLC and Stormy Daniels into the contract."
Here is Michael Cohen's lawyer and spokesman saying categorically that Cohen negotiated agreement w/o ever telling his client DJT anything abt it and made him a party to the agreement w/o any intention of telling him abt it or having him sign it. @MichaelAvenatti @renato_mariotti pic.twitter.com/xqNLvcx1uX— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) March 29, 2018
Avenatti told CNBC that "there's no question" that Schwartz's comments make it easier to prove the agreement is invalid. He also said they will make it easier to get a judge to order that Trump submit to questioning under oath from Avenatti before a trial.
"Remarkably, the legal buffoonery from the other side continues unabated," Avenatti said.
"Every time David Schwartz goes on television our case grows stronger," Avenatti said. "So I would urge him to go on as many TVs as possible."
Cohen and Schwartz did not return requests for comment.
Jeffrey Cohen, a New York matrimonial and family law attorney who is not connected to the case, said Schwartz's claim will damage the case for Trump. He said Schwartz's claim that Trump had not known about the nondisclosure agreement when Michael Cohen signed it undercuts the claim that the agreement was valid and can be enforced as a result of legal action filed by Trump.
"It seems to be that they can't dance on both sides of this fence," Jeffrey Cohen said.
"It will hurt" Trump's case, he added.
"He can't not be a party to the agreement and also be a party to the agreement here," Jeffrey Cohen said of Trump. "I don't see how he can be party to an agreement if he didn't sign it."
On Thursday, a federal judge handling Daniels's lawsuit rejected, at least for now, Avenatti's request to question Trump under oath in the case. The judge said such a motion was premature, leaving the door open for Avenatti to refile the request later.
Jeffrey Cohen said that the judge might be more likely to order Trump's deposition if there is an open question about whether he was aware of the agreement when it was signed, as that could determine its validity.
'It becomes messier by the day'
Jeffrey Cohen also said that Schwartz's comments on Wednesday night, if true, increase the risk that Michael Cohen will be the target of an ethics complaint with the New York bar association.
Jeffrey Cohen cited a number of ethical rules that could apply in the case, including one that prohibits a lawyer from giving financial assistance to a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation.
Another rule requires lawyers to promptly inform a client of a material development in litigation or contemplated litigation.
"I personally think that Michael Cohen is not sleeping these days because he's under serious attack," Jeffrey Cohen said.
Harry Rimm, a white-collar litigation lawyer and partner with Sullivan & Worcester in New York and a former federal prosecutor, also mentioned the state ethics rules when asked about Schwartz's comments about Michael Cohen.
Rimm said "material developments" in a case that would have to be disclosed to a client "includes settlements," such as the payment of money to Daniels.
He said that one exception to that rule is when "the client has previously made clear" to his lawyer the proposal that was later agreed to by the opposing party "would be acceptable."
But, Rimm said, "I don't understand or I can't foresee agreements being enforced where a lawyer entered into it ... without the client being given the chance to consider it, accept it or reject it."
"I can't imagine the court enforcing an agreement when one side acknowledges that that side didn't know what the lawyer was doing," he said.
Regardless of how the case ends up playing out, Rimm said that Schwartz's comments have made it harder for the public to figure out what the truth is about the agreement.
"The facts are in dispute, and it becomes messier by the day," he said.