The White House is finally catching on to the reality that the Stormy Daniels affair isn’t just a saga about Donald Trump’s marital indiscretions but rather a criminal probe that now threatens both the family business and Trump’s presidency. Here’s a dispatch from a White House reporter earlier Tuesday:
The press briefing is delayed as it becomes clearer and clearer that Stormy Daniels may not just be a story about a potential affair but the basis for criminal investigations into President Trump’s lawyer. So many questions for this WH today.
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) April 10, 2018
The wrecking ball nature of the Stormy-Trump episode is one that Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti seemed clued into from the moment he filed a complaint in early March seeking to invalidate the Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) between his client and Trump. That NDA wasn’t signed by Trump but rather by his lawyer Michael Cohen on behalf of “EC LLC,” or “Essential Consultants LLC,” the shell company Cohen established in Delaware in October 2016 to pay Daniels $130,000 for her silence.
Right from the start, Avenatti seemed to get that the payment was a problem one way or the other. As he explained to MSNBC Monday, in order for Cohen to set up the LLC and/or get the home equity loan he said he used to make the payment, he would have had to declare what the business and the loan were being used for. Cohen likely didn’t say: I’m using it as hush money to pay off an adult film star who allegedly had an affair with my boss, but I’m not exactly sure because I never asked my boss about it directly (as Cohen has claimed).
Of course, that payment now lies at the heart of a criminal investigation that led to the FBI raid Monday of Cohen’s office, home and a hotel room in Manhattan.
Avenatti’s original motion to vacate the NDA now appears to have been just the beginning of his advance on what he realized was the nexus between his client and Robert Mueller’s Russia probe: Michael Cohen.
Late last month, Avenatti and his team wrote to the Trump Organization and two banks asking them to preserve any emails, records or other documentation related to the payment Cohen made.
In a letter to the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, Daniels’s attorney argued that the company has “unmistakable links” to the lawsuit and asked the business to retain any messages Cohen exchanged regarding Daniels, along with banking records, account histories and text messages or emails that could relate to Trump and Daniels’s alleged relationship.
Sure enough, federal prosecutors have now requested all records from the Trump Organization related to that $130,000 payment. And Avenatti now plans to renew his motion to depose both Cohen and Trump for two hours each.
“I’m highly confident that that motion is going to be granted,” he told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Monday. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this, and the prior statements that have been made to the American public are not going to hold up,” he said of story that Cohen and Trump have advanced.
In fact, last Thursday, Avenatti delighted in Trump finally breaking his silence and denying that he ever even knew about the payment—because Avenatti understood that it placed Cohen at the fulcrum of the legal battle.
“If this guy doesn’t hold up ultimately, whether it’s in connection with this case or with Robert Mueller, Katy bar the door—very bad things are going to happen to this administration,” Avenatti observed.
Now, indeed, the fate of both the Trump Organization and the Trump administration appear to lie with Michael Cohen.