Stormy Daniels is suing her ex-lawyer for colluding with Michael Cohen

Daniels alleges that her old lawyer was a "puppet" for Trump: He plotted with Michael Cohen to push lies

By Matthew Rozsa

Published June 7, 2018 2:23PM (EDT)

Stormy Daniels (AP/Damairs Carter)
Stormy Daniels (AP/Damairs Carter)

Stormy Daniels, the former porn star who claims to have had an affair with Donald Trump before he became president, has filed a lawsuit against one of her former lawyers, whom she accuses of colluding with Trump's personal lawyer to spread lies.

According to Daniels, her ex-lawyer Keith Davidson "hatched a plan" and "colluded" with Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen in January to get Daniels to deny her alleged affair with Trump on Fox News, according to NBC News. Describing Davidson as a "puppet" of Trump and Cohen, Daniels' suit argues that Trump knew Cohen and Davidson were corresponding in order to help him out. Her suit points to one occasion when Cohen referred to Davidson as a "pal" in a text message.

The lawsuit also alleges that, when Davidson tipped off Cohen about Daniels' plan to go public with her story, Trump's lawyer met with First Lady Melania Trump "in order to ‘get out in front’ of the approaching lawsuit and publicity, and convince her that Ms. Clifford was a liar and not to be trusted," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Perhaps most seriously, the lawsuit accuses Davidson of informing Cohen that Clifford was planning on hiring Michael Avenatti as her new lawyer and to go public with her account of the alleged affair and subsequent non-disclosure agreement. If this is true, it could constitute Davidson violating attorney-client confidentiality.

"Mr. Davidson abdicated his role as an advocate and fiduciary of his client Ms. Clifford and instead elected to be a puppet for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump in order to advance their interests at the expense of Ms. Clifford," the suit claims, according to NBC News.

Daniels' current lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told Salon that he is "confident that when we are finally provided with the official documents and text messages, which we are entitled to, that this story will get even uglier."

If the story is proved to be true, it could have explosive consequences in terms of Daniels' case — although, in terms of legal consequences, it is unlikely to impact President Trump himself.

"It would be remarkable to assume that a client would understand that his lawyer was seeking to cause another lawyer to violate that other lawyer's duties to that lawyer's client. That's highly improbable," Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University, told Salon.

He also pointed out that, even if Trump did try to convince Daniels through her lawyer to publicly deny the alleged affair, that in itself would not be a crime."It's not a crime to lie to the media," Gillers told Salon. "It's not a crime to lie to the public, unless it's tied up into some other criminal enterprise. Merely lying publicly — whether to Daniels or Fox or in tweets or otherwise — is not by itself a crime."

This isn't to say, however, that the lawsuit couldn't have a major impact on the Stormy Daniels saga.

"If Avenatti can prove what he's asserting, it's a very powerful lawsuit," Gillers told Salon. "It's a very significant lawsuit, but that depends on his ability to prove his allegation that Davidson violated his duties of confidentiality and loyalty to Daniels in the way that the complaint alleges. So if you assume the facts are true — and that's a big assumption and he'll have to prove it — then the allegations against Davidson are very damning. Basically, he's accusing Davidson of betraying his client."

There could be similar ramifications for Cohen.

"The allegation against Cohen is interesting," Gillers told Salon. "To make a case against Cohen, Avenatti has to prove not only that Cohen encouraged Daniels to do what is alleged, but he'd also have to prove that Cohen knew that Davidson was violating his duties to Daniels and encouraged him to do so. To put it another way: Cohen could assume that Davidson understood the limits of what he could do and was acting professionally. It's not Cohen's job to police Davidson's professional ethics."

He added, "So Avenatti would have to show that Cohen actively sought to encourage Davidson to violate his duties to Daniels in the way the complaint alleges."

Davidson, for his part, went on a personal attack against Avenatti.

"This outrageously frivolous lawsuit is yet another desperate attempt by Michael Avenatti to continue his ‘publicity tour,’ as well as divert attention from the recent allegations against him relating to bankruptcy proceedings and the failure to withhold millions of federal employee taxes," Davidson said regarding the lawsuit, according to the Times.

Avenatti had similarly unflattering thoughts about Davidson.

"Mr. Davidson is a liar and a scum bag. He is now trying to distract away from his own unethical lapses by telling lies about things wholly unrelated to this case. He also clearly doesn’t know the law as it relates to the attorney-client privilege," Avenatti told the Times.

 

The underlying controversy surrounding the alleged affair between Trump and Daniels is the possibility that the Trump campaign engaged in illegal activities in order to cover it up. In February Cohen admitted that "I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford [Daniels' legal name]. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone."

Last month, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani seemed to contradict Cohen by saying that Trump had reimbursed him, which if he had done so could constitute an illegal campaign expense.

"I was talking about the $130,000 payment, the settlement payment, which is a very regular thing for lawyers to do," Giuliani told Fox News host Sean Hannity regarding the hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford). "The question there was, the only possible violation there would be, was it a campaign finance violation? Which usually would result in a fine, by the way, not this big Stormtroopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office."

He added, "That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm forms or whatever funds, doesn't matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months."

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Keith Davidson Michael Avenatti Stephanie Clifford Stormy Daniels