Michael Avenatti Flew Too Close to the Sun, Now Faces Federal Charges

Avenatti probably won’t be running for office anytime soon. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Spare a thought for Icarus. Federal prosecutors charged Michael Avenatti, erstwhile presidential candidate and former attorney to Stormy Daniels, with two separate crimes in two different jurisdictions on Monday afternoon. Los Angeles prosecutors have charged him with “wire and bank fraud,” CNBC reported. At the same time, attorneys for the Southern District of New York charged Avenatti with extorting $20 million from Nike, according to Reuters. The news broke about 45 minutes after Avenatti announced a special press conference, at which he intended to reveal “a major high school/college basketball scandal” allegedly involving Nike.

Avenatti is in custody, so that press conference is probably off. (Not that Nike is having a substantially better day. It’s just been fined $14 million by the European Union for antitrust violations.) As the charges have only just been announced, details are still emerging about the severity of the allegations, and Avenatti is entitled to fair hearings. But based on what we do know, it’s clear that Avenatti is in big trouble.

Today’s charges are an ignoble fate for a man who briefly looked like a liberal darling. But cracks in Avenatti’s public edifice have been visible for a long time. This fall, he attempted to influence the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by two women. Avenatti brought forward a third accuser, but his public relations campaign ended in public embarrassment after the woman’s credibility began to collapse. On March 12, Avenatti and Stormy Daniels announced that they would no longer be working with each other. The circumstances surrounding their parting still aren’t clear. Avenatti’s statement said only that his office would no longer represent Daniels for “various reasons that we cannot disclose publicly due to the attorney-client privilege,” as Politico reported at the time. Daniels had already announced her decision to hire a new legal team. She had previously told the Daily Beast that Avenatti had launched a new crowdfunding campaign for legal expenses without informing her, and that he’d also sued Donald Trump “against her wishes.” On Monday, Daniels said she was “not shocked” by news of the charges:

Not only could the charges end his legal career, they probably signal doom for his political ambitions, too. By the time Avenatti and Daniels parted ways, the attorney had already briefly floated the possibility of a presidential run.

Inexplicably, Avenatti’s fantasies found some traction for a while. Adam Parkhomenko, a former aide to Hillary Clinton who has repeatedly suggested that Senator Bernie Sanders owes his popularity to Russian support, backed the attorney’s abortive bid for president. Back in September, Politico even declared that Avenatti was “winning” the 2020 Democratic primary, saying at the time that his aggressive criticism of Trump and willingness to flout norms around issues like court-packing “sets the pace” of primary season. Avenatti, of course, was hardly the only outspoken Trump critic around in 2018, nor was he the only likely Democratic candidate to express extreme frustration with political norms. The Avenatti machine whimpered to a stop soon enough. In December, he formally announced that he would not run for president after all.

That announcement did not necessarily mean that Avenatti had put his ambitions into storage. He’s evinced great talent for forcing his name into news cycle after news cycle, and his barbed attacks on the president made him popular, at least for a while. But if he did hope to run for office at some later date, that possibility is likely closed to him now. Some grifts are more durable than others.

Michael Avenatti Flew Too Near to Sun, Faces Federal Charges