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A little too close to the sun: Advocacy in the modern age

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Too Close to the Sun

Tesla aboard the Helios. Announcing Close to the Sun for the Nintendo Switch! Close to the Sun Single Released! Michael Avenatti, the attorney and cable news star who once harbored presidential ambitions, conceded in an interview with Vanity Fair that he "flew too close to the sun" as he ascended to celebrity before crashing back to earth under the weight of federal criminal charges. Avenatti first rose to prominence on the national political stage as the attorney for Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who claimed to have had a one-night sexual affair with President Donald Trump.

The Southern California-based attorney quickly became one of the president's chief antagonists, legally pursuing him and longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen and criticizing both regularly on television. Avenatti's popularity grew to the point where he openly flirted with joining the Democratic primary for president, making trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. But his star soon fell after he was accused last November of domestic abuse — prosecutors decided not to pursue felony charges — and arrested by the FBI and charged with embezzlement, wire, bank and bankruptcy fraud as well as tax-related charges.

Less than a week earlier, Avenatti had contacted the athletic-apparel giant and offered it a hard bargain. One of his clients, a youth basketball coach, was alleging that Nike had paid high-school basketball players. The allegations, on their own, would be explosive. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.

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They took his briefcase and his cell phone before pulling a large trench coat around his shoulders so they could handcuff him discreetly. Booked at the police station across from the courthouse on Pearl Street, Avenatti was allowed one phone call, which he used to call his mother. She knew what had happened to her son before he called, because Geoffrey Berman, the U. Avenatti told me in May that at no point did he attempt to extort Nike and any claim to the contrary is absolutely baseless.

The complaint also claimed that Avenatti defrauded a bank by submitting false tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans. A few weeks later, on April 11, federal officials in California handed down a count indictment, including 19 tax-related charges, 10 counts of wire fraud, 4 counts of bankruptcy fraud, and 2 bank-fraud charges.

Avenatti allegedly deposited some of the settlement into a personal account associated with his car-racing team. Avenatti pleaded not guilty. The day after the government handed down the indictment, Avenatti sat across a table from me in an appropriately all-glass building on Santa Monica Boulevard. He was dressed in his usual custom suit, even on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, with no plans to set foot in a cable-news station or courtroom, or in front of a podium for a press conference.

Masturbated too close to the sun.

Typically, he was his own media strategist. During the interview, Avenatti cried on four separate occasions, including when he talked about the call he made to his mother after he was arrested. There is no question that Avenatti has been living his life by the sword for the past year.

And for a while, for many Democrats, he was an unlikely hero, a Resistance warrior the moment required. Robert Mueller, fastidiously doing his work in private, respecting norms, keeping his mouth shut, decently, diligently playing his part, was a man from a different era, however much faith Democrats put in him. And as they waited for Mueller to do his work, many at least entertained the theory that defeating Trump could mean becoming more like him, fighting him on his own terms and feeding an insatiable desire for publicity.

Like the president, he understood that politics, and making money, were media games. And where Michelle Obama counseled to go high, Avenatti, by analysis and instinct, went low.

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He mirrored the president in his easily wounded, rageful narcissism. And, as we have learned about Trump, as much as Avenatti dreamed of great, ceaseless notoriety, living his life completely in public, he had much he needed to keep hidden, too. In her book, Full Disclosure, published last fall, Stormy Daniels described her first meeting with Avenatti, in February That attorney, of course, was Avenatti. Avenatti himself has always been uncharacteristically reticent about how he met Daniels, citing, not terribly believably, attorney-client privilege.


At the time, Avenatti was not, by any means, a junior attorney. Avenatti is highly skilled at that game. The case earned him his biggest media coup yet, an appearance on 60 Minutes, where he was interviewed at length by Anderson Cooper. The case was a potent, addictive mix of moral fervor, raw aggression, fame, and wealth, and it put him on the runway for his takeoff the following winter. But in other ways, Avenatti was on the brink. His second wife had filed for divorce in January.

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Avenatti disputes the claims in her filing. By that time, the I. The settlement had come through to Avenatti. But instead of transferring it to his client, the complaint alleges, he put the money into his own account. When his client repeatedly asked Avenatti when the money would come in, he allegedly lied about the fact that it already had, in fact, been paid to him.

Flying Too Close to the Sun

He has pleaded not guilty to the charge. As much as anything, the Stormy Daniels case was a way of shifting his personal narrative, leaving behind the morass of his marriage and his finances. Avenatti quickly realized that the case could be greater than the sum of its parts—ethically, politically, financially. I saw that as an opportunity to do something that was just, that was right, and to basically go all in.

It was his skill set and his strategy, Avenatti explained, that took her case from what could have been a two-day story and turned it into a case cable-news hosts chewed over night after night, week after week, month after month. Daniels denied repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.

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On March 6, , he filed a lawsuit against the president of the United States on behalf of Daniels in a California civil court, seeking to void the non-disclosure agreement prohibiting Daniels from discussing her supposed affair with Trump. The following morning, he appeared solo on Today, kicking off a flurry of interviews that would keep him in green rooms and on cable-news sets and shuttling from one studio to the next in black cars for weeks.

From a virtual unknown, Avenatti became one of the most famous people in America, a cable-news pugilist who was actually going toe-to-toe with the president and drawing blood. For a while, it spun faster than anyone, including Avenatti, could control. He berated Time magazine after it published a story quoting him saying that the next Democratic nominee would likely have to be a white man, demanding that the publication release the transcript of his interview.

I fucking blocked that motherfucker. Behind the scenes, his behavior was even more volatile.