HomeThe LatestThe fall of a anti-Trump hero from near grace

The fall of a anti-Trump hero from near grace

He was cuffed and shackled the last time he travelled via private plane in January 2020. Federal marshals rented an aircraft to transfer him to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he spent 74 days in solitary confinement, one floor above the unit where Jeffrey Epstein was housed.

He last drove a racing vehicle, his most cherished and costly hobby, 1,411 days ago. He last drank a Grey Goose martini (up, two olives) and a New York strip at Craig’s, his favorite West Hollywood hangout, 709 days ago. He wore his five-figure Patek Philippe Nautilus watch for the final time 708 days ago, when it was confiscated by the authorities. He last spoke with his former client, Stormy Daniels, in February 2019. The last time he was questioned about running for president by a reporter was on March 24, 2019, the Sunday before his arrest.

Michael Avenatti via Luke Harold is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

He last visited his folks on Thanksgiving in 2019. In September 2018, his Twitter account, where he had had around 900,000 followers (now 680,000), was frozen: He appears on MSNBC in the video that runs on loop in his final pinned d he’s speaking quickly. “I noticed earlier tonight, in fact, Don Jr. got in the mix by calling me a ‘porn star lawyer. Evidently he forgot that his father was the one that had unprotected sex with my ‘quote’ porn-star ‘close-quote’ client while his stepbrother was four months old at home with his stepmom.”

This Michael Avenatti is no longer there.

Michael Avenatti via ruperto miller is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There is nothing that strips you of ego more than the fall from a pulpit. 

Avenatti was a key player in the most significant political narrative in America from March to December 2018: the destiny of Donald Trump’s presidency. He was an unexpected resistance hero, maybe the first of his kind. His qualifications were pure hot fame and a desire to battle in the dirt, filling a need in the Democratic Party at a time when people were still scared to use the words “liar” and “lies.”

Stormy Daniels via Hillel Steinberg is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Some tacit consensus was that he was serious enough to earn the platform. The phrase “possible Avenatti presidential candidacy” was not a play on words. A skill for public fighting was considered as its own justification in a society where the president developed a zero-sum style of civic dialogue. It drove Avenatti, but it can equally be said that it undid him. Almost as fast as he came, Avenatti vanished, undone by controversy, his adversary still in the White House. The only issue now is whether the “cage battle” mindset he so readily adopted — the thing that made him famous — will be the thing that rescues him from incarceration and oblivion.

Michael Avenatti via Luke Harold is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Avenatti’s account of what transpired is both vivid and perplexing. Dates, names, places, tweets, meals, and his opinions at the time are all readily available. It’s the big picture that’s difficult, and specific topics in particular: why he put himself on the nation’s biggest stage when he owed millions in taxes, according to federal prosecutors; when he had financial disputes with his former law partner; and when his house (in the broadest sense) wasn’t in order, despite assuring informal advisers, two of whom told me, that he had no skeletons in his closet.

“Not a goddamn thing,” two people remember him saying at dinner in 2018, though he disputes “any suggestion that I led anyone to believe that I led a pristine life.”

Avenatti is now a convicted felon, having been found guilty of trying to extort Nike in a plan described by the government as a desperate shakedown. In the meanwhile, he faces two and a half years in jail until his appeal. 

He is juggling three federal indictments, including claims of fraud, embezzlement, and attempted extortion, the details of which he commands as if he were representing himself, as he did in the second of the three cases, in California, where federal prosecutors accused him of stealing millions of dollars from his own clients. 
Surprisingly, the case was thrown out when Avenatti successfully contended that federal prosecutors concealed evidence beneficial to his defense. His days are now spent writing legal papers, motions, appeals, letters to the court(s), and analyzing evidence. The second-floor apartment is filled with boxes of files labeled “CONTEMPT MOTION,” though they could just as easily say “BULLSHIT” — boxes and boxes of “It’s Bullshit” and “I Don’t Traffic In Bullshit” and “The Whole Premise Is Complete Bullshit,” which is generally where he lands on the case against him, both legally and publicly.

Bullshit via Alan Levine is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

His major point, his actual conviction, is that if his name was not Michael Avenatti, he would never have been sought by federal prosecutors in three distinct cases on two coasts, kept in solitary prison among suspected terrorists and national security threats.

This isn’t to imply he doesn’t confess to making errors; he does. However, these regrets are often punctured by his own preoccupations and obsessions, some of which seem to be insignificant: His Nike negotiating partner, a notable criminal defense attorney, was never charged. The way Andrew Yang continues to make fun of Avenatti’s performance at an Iowa Democratic Party dinner three years ago. Stormy Daniels, the major character in his third federal case, in which prosecutors claim he took part of the earnings from her book contract, now works as a paranormal private investigator, which his defenders claim weakens her credibility. Finally, Avenatti claims that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen served his own house arrest in his “multimillion-dollar luxury apartment,” Avenatti says, “with his Miró f—ing painting on the wall behind him when he does his YouTube interviews and his cable TV hits.”

Nike via Eduardo Francisco Vazquez Murillo is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

He has contemplated with creating his own podcast, and trying to connect with friends. 

“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.”

Avenatti has always done best when other people are looking, and no one has been watching for a long time. He has infinite days and weeks to reflect on his life’s downhill spiral, which he dislikes doing when he is alone, which 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.”

Avenatti is fighting for the most fundamental reason a human can have: his freedom. But there is a more intangible fight going on inside the Venice flat – one to keep the idea that he mattered, not as a caricature in our political circus, but as a player of substance who cannot be disregarded. He contributed to the Trump era’s binary media environment, but as he descends, facing an uncertain landing, he is now frantic to be recognized as a person of complexity, to develop a public impression that will resist the blows.

“I am not a Boy Scout, and I am not a serial killer,” he says. “It’s easier for us when it comes to judging other human beings, to say, ‘He or she is 100 percent good, or he or she is 100 percent bad.’ Right? Because that makes it easy.”

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