A federal judge in Los Angeles heard arguments but made no immediate ruling Friday on a request by President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer for a gag order against Stormy Daniels’ media-savvy attorney, Michael Avenatti.
Michael Cohen’s lawyer, Brent H. Blakely, argued that a restraining order is necessary because Avenatti has appeared more than 170 times on television and posted more than 500 tweets smearing Cohen in order to litigate his case “in the court of public opinion,” according to documents filed in the case.
Blakely asked U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to issue a gag order “to preserve the integrity of the judicial system,” the attorney wrote in a seven-page document filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Otero did not immediately rule on the request, instead taking the matter under submission. It was unknown when he might issue a ruling, but he strongly indicated from the bench he would likely reject the request.
The judge told Blakely that he had failed to “establish a causal connection” between Avenatti’s public statements and their potential impact on Cohen’s right to a fair trial.
In order to win a restraining order against Avenatti, Otero said, Blakely would have to show that the attorney’s media appearances “would have a prejudicial effect” on the pending trial — “and you haven’t shown that.”
After some extended parley with Blakely, the judge concluded that “we’re two ships passing in the night. … I’m not sure you really appreciate the magnitude of the order you are seeking.”
Former porn actress Daniels is suing Trump and Cohen, as well as the shell company Essential Consultants, seeking to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election that attempted to prevent her from speaking out about a one-night stand she alleges she had with Trump more than a decade ago.
Otero ordered a three-month stay of the case in April in light of a federal criminal investigation of Cohen that is continuing in the Southern District of New York. Cohen’s lawyer has asked for another three-month stay, but Otero also declined to immediately rule on that request.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had sex once with the married Trump in 2006 and carried on a platonic relationship with him for about a year afterward. Trump has denied any sexual relationship with Daniels.
Cohen admitted paying Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her signing the “hush agreement.” The actress claims the agreement should be nullified because, although Cohen signed it, Trump never did.
Cohen initially said he used his own money to pay Daniels and was not reimbursed by Trump. However, Trump — who first publicly denied knowledge of the payment — subsequently conceded that Cohen was reimbursed.
The lawsuit also accuses Cohen of defamation over comments he made about Daniels’ truthfulness. Daniels filed a separate defamation suit against Trump in New York, alleging the president libeled her by saying she lied about a man she claims threatened her to force her to keep quiet about the alleged affair with Trump.
According to a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday, Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with CNN’s Chris Cuomo and admitted in the tape to arranging — on his own — the $130,000 payment to Daniels in 2016.
The newspaper reported that the two-hour recording covers such topics as the alleged affair with Daniels and the subsequent payment.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani previously said that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment through a monthly retainer, but insisted Trump wasn’t aware of the deal until much later.
The reported tape doesn’t indicate whether the payment to the former adult-film actress was made to help Trump’s presidential campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The article said it would be a campaign finance violation if Cohen made the payment to bolster the then-candidate’s chances of getting into office because it violates the election law by making a contribution that exceeds the legal limit and was not disclosed to election regulators.
Meanwhile, Avenatti claimed during a town hall meeting Thursday in West Hollywood that he is now representing three more women who claim they had affairs with Trump and say they were paid “hush money” prior to Trump’s 2016 election. One of the women claimed to be pregnant at the time she was paid, ABC7 reported.
“Three additional women,” Avenatti wrote on Twitter Thursday night. “All paid hush money through various means. Time for Michael Cohen and Donald Trump to come 100 percent clean with the American people. All the documents, all the tapes, NOW. No more lies or lip service.”