One character who has mercifully faded from the media scene in the year that has passed since the November 2020 is Michael Avenatti, the attorney whose famously vain and self-indulgent representation of ex-porn star Stormy Daniels (who is now involved in a third federal case against him) led to Avenatti being fielded by CNN as a potential presidential candidate.
We long suspected Avenatti’s willingness to always take urgent calls from reporter hacks like Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta or whoever needed an urgent soundbite helped endear him to the US press, particularly CNN, his biggest benefactor during his brief but spirited time in the limelight.
Avenatti made himself famously accessible to the press. And during the three years since he was first arrested on extortion charges for allegedly attempting to shake down Nike, followed by a separate case in California accusing him of chiseling money from his clients’ settlement payments (followed by his latest case about his representation of Stormy Daniels), Avenatti’s reputation has effectively imploded. He was ultimately sentenced last year for the New York charges (which stemmed from his scheme to use a whistleblower high-school basketball coach to shine a light on allegedly untoward (and, Avenatti alleged, illegal) behavior on Nike’s part.
But while he awaits justice in the other two cases, Avenatti, who should be serving his time in federal prison, is instead, thanks to COVID, a (mostly) free man, living under house arrest in the two bedroom apartment of an old childhood friend.
Having so much free time on his hands now, it certainly makes sense that Avenatti would agree to participate in a profile piece for Politico, a little grist for all the Avenatti fangirls out there – and the haters who recognized the smarmy huckster for what he was immediately, even if CNN (along with other major establishment media players) acted like it had no idea.
To the reporter’s credit, the piece does a pretty good job of skewering Avenatti. It revealed to the public the circumstances of his house arrest. Let’s just say it’s a long way from his old pre-divorce, pre-felon life.
The last time he drove a race car, his most beloved and expensive habit, was 1,411 days ago. The last time he had a Grey Goose martini (up, two olives) and a New York strip at Craig’s, his preferred hangout in West Hollywood, was 709 days ago. The last time he wore his five-figure Patek Philippe Nautilus watch, before it was seized by the government, was 708 days ago. The last time he talked to his former client, Stormy Daniels, was February 2019. The last time a reporter asked him about running for president was March 24, 2019, the Sunday before his arrest. The last time he saw his parents was Thanksgiving 2019. His Twitter account, where he once held the attention of nearly 900,000 followers (now 680,000), sits frozen in September 2018: In the video that plays on loop in his last pinned tweet, he is on MSNBC, attacking the president and his party: “They want to make me the issue.”
As the piece promptly admits, the old Avenatti “doesn’t exist anymore”. And for anybody who’s wondering, yes, the fact that Avenatti can no longer respond to critics, both online and on cable news, “infuriates” him.
When I suggest to Avenatti that he could do his own live hits, launch his own podcast, reconnect with his friends at MSNBC and CNN – his old dinner partners in New York – he stops me.
“I don’t think it would be smart. I don’t think it’d be a good look, and, you know, why risk it?” To hear other people bring up his name without being on set to challenge them, to yell like he used to –“it’s not killing me,” he says, “but it’s – it’s infuriating.”
While he admits his unraveling was “such a gargantuan fall”…
Avenatti always performed best with others watching, and no one has been watching for a very long time. He has endless days and weeks to think about the downward trajectory of his life, which he doesn’t like to do when he is alone, which, inconveniently, is most of the time. “If I start thinking about the relationships I had that I no longer have, the opportunities I had that I no longer have, the freedom I had that I no longer have, the wealth and things I used to have that I no longer have, the notoriety and the adoration I used to have that I no longer have — I mean, it’ll destroy me,” he says. “I have to push it out of my mind, because it’s been such a gargantuan fall.”
…Politico says he’s becoming increasingly desperate for “validation” that he ever “mattered not as a cartoonish figure in our political circus, but as a player of substance who cannot be dismissed.”
The scraps to which Avenatti is clinging to help buttress his sense of self-worth are comically small: According to Politico, Avenatti’s biggest accomplishment before the Stormy Daniels’ case was getting his clients on “60 Minutes” three times in 5 years. “It’s never been done before,” Avenatti reportedly gushed to Politico.
He’s done it so many times before. Even in the beginning, when he was a little-known plaintiff’s attorney in California, before his license was suspended, he had cases appear on “60 Minutes” three times in five years. “It’s never been done,” he says. In front of a camera, he is at ease. In 2016, during his second appearance on the program, representing hospitals that claimed they’d been sold ineffective personal protective equipment, when asked to respond to one of the health care executives, he surprised himself with an ad-libbed line: “Evidently he forgot the 11th commandment,” Avenatti told Anderson Cooper. “Do not lie to ‘60 Minutes.’” As soon as he said it, he knew it would make the final cut.
Of course, even if he is condemned to live the rest of his life as a cartoon character, he’s still sitting pretty for the moment. He has an old childhood friend looking after him (the friend took Avenatti in to live in his two-bedroom Venice apartment for the lawyer’s stint under house arrest, however long that shall be).
He still has to be tried and, if convicted (or if he should change his plea, possibly as part of a deal), sentenced in two other federal cases. So, at this rate, the pandemic would need to drag on for years, maybe the rest of the decade, for Avenatti to avoid serving any of his sentence in federal custody.
But still, imagine, for a second, how this case might have been treated if Avenatti was a black defendant accused of perhaps a non-violent drug-trafficking related felony rather than being a white, well-to-do lawyer.