Politics & Policy

Hero to Zero: The Rise and Fall of Michael Avenatti

Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks to the media in New York City, N.Y., December 12, 2018. (Brendan McDermid/REUTERS)
Once the Democrats’ darling, Avenatti is now a walking embarrassment.

Remember when Michael Avenatti was the Democrats’ big hope for 2020? He wasn’t just that, though. Parachuting in to launch his presidential campaign to the DNC’s “Ethnic Council” and its black caucus in Chicago in August, he enthusiastically adopted the party’s guiltspeak. “People that look like me, white men, we need to stand up,” he told his minority audience, exactly the kind of cost-free identity-politics self-castigation without which no Democrat can hope to rise very far. In the same month, Avenatti spoke at the “Democratic Wing Ding” dinner in Iowa and announced plans to visit at least 20 more states.

The response was fanatical. Avenatti was hailed as a hybrid attack dog and sex god. All Democrats bowed to the Trumpslayer. Picture a two-fisted, high-T version of 2008 Barack Obama, and you’ll have some idea of how professional Democrats viewed him as they rushed to polish his boots with their tongues. “Hottie Avenatti” became a meme. If geothermal hatred of President Trump was warming the Democratic party’s heart, Avenatti was the cause of significant engorgement in its undies. “I wouldn’t not f*** him,” one activist said. “Unprompted, several Democrats admiringly discussed Avenatti’s physique to VICE News,” ran one reporter’s account, noting that “I have a thing for bald guys” was a typical remark. (Great news, Joe Biden, you can take out your plugs!)

“He’s in, right? He’s running for president and I think it’s good he’s here and I think that all the other candidates should also be showing support,” Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic party told Vice. A party consultant added that Avenatti’s background was no impediment to his path to the White House and was maybe even an asset. “If it takes Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti to make the difference between people not going bankrupt over healthcare, then we’ll take that deal . . . Even insiders are open to a new way of doing things.”

This was less than four months ago: Peak Avenatti. Since then his stock has followed somewhat of a Pets.com trajectory. In August, Avenatti stepped into a Twitter slap-fight between Jim Acosta and Sean Hannity and tried to invite himself to appear on the latter’s show (“Let’s go big boy”), earning only blunt dismissal for his efforts. Hannity informed the lawyer that only the president and “top newsmakers” could hope for an entire hour on his show anyway. Avenatti was reduced to looking like Jack Lemmon at the moment Alec Baldwin informed him that coffee is for closers.

In September, even as Avenatti said in his typical roid-rage Twitter register that “only a street fighter has a chance at displacing the ‘King,’” Avenatti’s reputation started to glisten with flop sweat. He found himself spatting with Tucker Carlson on Fox News Channel, apparently not knowing that Carlson would be mocking him with the chyron indelibly labeling Avenatti “Creepy Porn Lawyer” even as he spoke. It became increasingly clear that Avenatti’s ability to glom onto a litigious porn star was all he had to offer the political conversation. He was a one-hit wonder, and not a good hit, like “Nothing Compares 2 U.” More like “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Avenatti aimed his salvos at Republicans but wound up blasting off his own toes. September was when he announced with immense fanfare a new client: a woman spinning lunatic stories about Brett Kavanaugh’s supposed involvement in a high-school rape gang. When her account failed to attract any shred of corroboration from any of the many others who supposedly attended the felony fiestas she described, she backed off some of her claims in a TV interview while a supposedly corroborating second witness produced by Avenatti instead blamed him for misrepresenting her story. “I do not like that [Avenatti] twisted my words,” the second woman told NBC News.

Avenatti now looked like Al Sharpton during the Tawana Brawley case, his self-injection into the Kavanaugh story a first-ballot entrant into the Self-Own Hall of Fame. One conservative pundit (okay, it was I) wondered on Twitter whether he was secretly a GOP mole. As a Townhall headline put it, “Thank Michael Avenatti For Helping To Steer [Senator Susan Collins] Towards Supporting Kavanaugh.”

“Attorney, Advocate, Fighter for Good,” reads Avenatti’s Twitter self-description. Kinda like Superman! In fact, Avenatti couldn’t pay his rent. The landlord of his law offices in Newport Beach, Calif., evicted him over a matter of $213,254 in unpaid rent. The supposed super-lawyer didn’t even attend the hearing to argue his side. On November 1, the sheriff pasted an eviction notice on his door.

Deadbeat Shyster Superman’s next I.Q.-challenged move was to sue Trump on Stormy Daniels’s behalf for defamation over a Twitter jibe, an effort so stupid that a federal judge not only tossed the suit but ordered Daniels to pay Trump $300,000 in attorney fees. A bewildered Stephanie Clifford (Daniels’s real name) said she hadn’t even asked Avenatti to sue Trump for her. It’s one of the tastier ironies of the Trump Era that the loyal foot soldiers of the Resistance who thought they were sending money to Clifford for her legal defense were actually sending it to Avenatti (who set up the crowdfunding account) so that his blundering and bluster could redirect it into Trump’s pocket.

With every move Avenatti made, he looked more like Wile E. Coyote, singed and dazed and wondering why his ingeniously designed bombs always seemed to go off in his paws. Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee referred Avenatti and his Kavanaugh-accusing client, Julie Swetnick, to the Justice Department on suspicion of making false claims in sworn statements. Avenatti went full Baghdad Bob in response, framing this dire development as the mother of all victories: “Maybe if Grassley was actually a lawyer that knew something about the law, he would realize what he has done. He just opened up Pandora’s box as it relates to Justice Kavanaugh’s conduct. It is Christmas in October!” Sure, Michael. You and Saddam just keep telling yourselves you’re winning.

Democratic-party luminaries who even bothered to mention Avenatti stopped musing about their inflamed gonads and backed off sorrowfully. When Avenatti, confusing macho-jerk posturing with inspiration, said, “When they go low, I say we hit harder,” Beto O’Rourke tried to steer the party away from such street-thug rhetoric, pointedly saying, “Avenatti does not represent us.” Citing a similarly gross remark by former Attorney General Eric Holder, O’Rourke said, “That’s not where we’re at.” Basta, Michael.

Meanwhile — funny how often this happens with outspoken Democrats! — a self-styled defender of women came under suspicion of being abusive to one of them. In November, Avenatti was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of domestic violence against a woman not his wife. (He denied wrongdoing and has not been formally charged.) Last week a divorce settlement revealed by TMZ said that he owes his estranged wife Lisa Storie-Avenatti $1.9 million and is being forced to liquidate five luxury watches and a Frank Gehry sculpture while giving up his leased Ferrari GT Spider. His White House ambitions went the way of the Ferrari: Avenatti’s 2020 campaign ended dismally in a Twitter statement in which he nevertheless unsportingly chided all potential Democratic presidential candidates as losers: They “are not battletested [sic] and have no real chance of winning.”

By November, when the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club convened at a midtown Manhattan restaurant for an event in Avenatti’s honor, Avenatti was a no-show. He was in Los Angeles. It would have been embarrassing for all involved if he had shown up. The president of the club said Avenatti had asked to have his award postponed till next June, by which point he hopes to have cleared his name. More likely, by then even Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel will be mocking him.

These days Avenatti’s attempts to stay in the headlines just seem sad: He’s representing one of the more obscure figures of the Resistance, a woman who climbed as far as the right foot of the Statue of Liberty (that high?) to protest Trump’s immigration policies but whose refusal to come down forced the evacuation of Liberty Island. What next? Maybe Avenatti will go to the pawn shop to pay a visit to his former watches. Maybe he’ll become in-house counsel for the Hustler Club. Maybe he’ll chain himself to the White House fence. If so, that’s as close as he’s ever going to get to the Oval Office.

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