Nearly four years ago, the porn star hired the attorney so that she could freely discuss an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump, leading to hype that the pair may even bring down the then-president. Now, Avenatti is on trial for allegedly pocketing $300,000 from Daniels’s book deal. It’s Avenatti’s third criminal trial, the second where he is representing himself, following a “breakdown” in communication with his lawyers earlier this week.
Daniels began testifying against Avenatti on Thursday, and she resumed on Friday, answering him with confident matter-of-factness, defending her work as a paranormal investigator.
“How do you speak with the dead?” Avenatti asked at one point.
“I don’t know, it just happens sometimes.”
“What do you mean, ‘It just happens’?”
“Do the dead speak back to you?” he pressed. “Do they communicate with you?”
Both showed up to court Friday ready for battle. Daniels cut a dramatic figure in a black pants-and-jacket ensemble; Avenatti looked polished in a crisp navy suit. When Daniels entered the courtroom, she walked toward the stand with a decisive gait.
The seeds for this showdown were sown in 2018 when The Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Cohen, then Trump’s lawyer, arranged a $130,000 payout to Daniels just days before the 2016 election so that she would keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump. Daniels, repped by Avenatti, sued Trump to break her nondisclosure agreement and freely discuss their alleged fling. It seemed to many that Daniels and Avenatti may take down Trump and his allies, and that summer Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal election law for making hush-money payments to Daniels and another woman at Trump’s behest. Daniels was given an $800,000 book deal for her memoir, Full Disclosure, with a forward penned by Avenatti. Six months after publication, the two cut ties with each other in a pair of dueling tweets.
Not long after, Avenatti was arrested for trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike. Then he was also charged with embezzling money from clients. Finally, federal prosecutors announced that Avenatti was indicted for “engaging in a scheme to defraud” Daniels, revealing the reason for their split.
When Daniels didn’t get her book payments, she went to him for help. He told her that the publisher was being slow and promised to look into it. When Daniels started reaching out to her agent and the publisher directly, Avenatti told them to ignore her. When Daniels finally managed to speak with her publisher, she said she learned that “Michael had been lying and stealing from me and my payments were sent months before.”
Daniels texted him a screenshot showing the dates payments were made. “They had sent the payment on time, with no question, and he lied to me almost every day for five months.”
Avenatti allegedly ripped her off by sending a bogus letter to her agent instructing that book proceeds be sent to a fund that he controlled, forging her signature by copying it from another document. “He stole from me,” Daniels said in court this week, “and he lied to me.”
Prosecutors alleged the race-car driving litigator did all this because he was “desperate” for money, unable to pay rent or payroll for his California law firm. He even used the money he allegedly pilfered to pay for his Starbucks orders.
Against all of that, Avenatti sought to portray his onetime client as a kook on cross-examination. He questioned Daniels on experiences she had described on her paranormal activity show, Spooky Babes. Daniels previously said of the name: “It’s not just ghosts. It’s legends of vampires and other things, so we went with spooky instead of ghost. And babes because it’s attractive people.”
“According to you, you experience unexplained and frightening experiences in your home in New Orleans?” Avenatti asked Daniels. She answered in the affirmative.
“You started to experience poltergeist phenomenon?
“And shadow figures?”
“Those are on the Spooky Babes show website,” Daniels testified, saying that she didn’t write some of the copy describing her accounts, as it was “press” for the show.
“You have claimed the experience in the house caused you to have a mass in your head?”
“An energy worker told me that, yes.”
“You had some sort of scan?”
“Yes,” she said. “Reiki scans.”
“I want to talk to you about Susan, who you claim is a haunted doll,” Avenatti said shortly thereafter.
“And she can walk?”
“No,” Daniels said firmly. “I’ve seen her be in a different spot. I don’t know how.”
“And she can talk? And she calls out?”
“Anyone who’s seen the YouTube video knows this, yes.”
“You heard her call you ‘mommy, mommy’?” Avenatti also pressed.
“We heard a voice, and we assumed it was her,” Daniels said of the show’s crew.
“You charge people to read tarot cards, correct?”
“Technically oracle cards,” she corrected. “But, yes.”
Avenatti asked whether she predicted the future during these readings. She answered with a frustrated no.
“What do you tell them?”
“That’s their private information.”
“You believe that you’re a medium, correct?”
“Could you just explain what a medium is?” the judge, Jesse Furman, interjected.
“A medium is … someone who communicates with spirits, non-living spirits, to be specific.”
After Avenatti worked to cast Daniels as detached from reality, he suggested that he should have received proceeds from her book — and pointed to a provision in their contract that said he was “entitled if those things occurred.”
“You’re very entitled, yes,” Daniels said with a wry nod.