LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge said Friday he likely won’t grant a gag order against Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing former porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump.
Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, sued Trump and a company former Trump attorney Michael Cohen created to pay her $130,000 to keep quiet during the 2016 presidential election about an affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006 in Lake Tahoe.
Trump denies the affair.
After Daniels filed the lawsuit – which was removed to federal court at Trump and Cohen’s request – Cohen asked for a stay to grapple with an ongoing criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York. Federal agents there raided his apartment and office, seizing thousands of documents and cellphones.
Cohen said he would not be able to split himself between the Los Angeles case and the federal investigation in New York. His attorneys also requested a gag order to be issued against Avenatti over his multiple comments to the media and on social media.
Brent Blakely, Cohen’s attorney, called Avenatti’s statements to the press “unprecedented” and said “this level of press being driven by a party’s counsel where a client is being maligned” would hamper Cohen’s right to a fair trial.
On Friday, with the 90-day stay expired and amid near-daily happenings on both sides of the case, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said the irony of a request to gag Avenatti from Cohen was not lost on him. This week, Cohen’s attorney recently released an audio recording to CNN from September 2016 where Cohen and Trump discussed making a payment to David Pecker, CEO of American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer and longtime friend of Trump.
The audio is believed to allude to purchasing the rights of a story from former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007.
“The irony of all that does not escape me,” said Otero.
He questioned the scope of the gag order requested and how that would chill Avenatti’s First Amendment rights going forward.
Otero read a filing by Blakely that likened Avenatti to a “carnival magician” who “attempts to somehow justify his conduct by pulling the First Amendment out of his tiny bag of tricks while at the same time pointing his finger at others.”
The judge said to Blakely: “I’m not sure you appreciate the order of your request. We’re two ships passing in the night. We don’t see eye to eye.”
Later, he added that asking for a prior restraining order is a big request. “This is serious business,” Otero said.
Blakely asked Otero about Avenatti, “At what point does he stop? A week before a trial?”
Otero noted a trial date had not been set and Cohen is not a party to the case.
He asked Blakely how Cohen was being deprived of a fair trial in this matter if he was not a named defendant in the case. The initial lawsuit filed by Daniels names Trump and Essential Consulting, the limited liability company Cohen created to facilitate the $130,000 payment.
“He’s a 100 percent owner of the company,” said Blakely.
“He’s not a party,” Otero repeated.
Avenatti said if a gag order were issued it should cover Trump’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the president for their own comments to the media.
Otero also cut off Avenatti a few times after he said he would likely deny the gag request.
“Not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Avenatti before bring up events only partially related to the LA case, like a reported encounter between Avenatti and Cohen in a New York restaurant.
“If you keep it up you may,” Otero replied.
Blakely asked for an additional 90-day stay since Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify in the Cohen investigation in New York, there would be an overlap of evidence with the Los Angeles case.
Avenatti said a stay should not be granted because the LA case and New York investigation are not related at this time.
Among the records seized from Cohen in the federal raid were documents that could relate to the $130,000 payment made to Daniels from Essential Consulting.
Daniels also filed defamation claims against Trump and Cohen over comments they made about Daniels and the nondisclosure agreement to the press. Since then, Avenatti has made hundreds of appearances on cable news shows and offered disparaging remarks about Cohen on Twitter, according to attorneys representing Trump.
Otero took the requests for an additional stay and the gag order under submission. He did not give any indication when he would rule.
Earlier this week, Avenatti said he now represents three new women who claim to have had relationships with Trump, but outside the courthouse on Friday said he was not at liberty to discuss the case without first getting permission from his clients.
He also said he would not stop giving interviews and talking about the case.
“When we get an indication that the American people don’t want to hear about the evidence, the facts and don’t want to hear what I have to say and they don’t want to hear what my client has to say, then we’ll stop talking,” Avenatti said. “This is about a cover-up at the highest levels of our government.”