On Wednesday morning, at 500 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan, I traded my cell phone for a legal pad to cover a hearing in the developing Michael Cohen case. (Meanwhile, TPM’s Allegra Kirkland, who normally covers all things Cohen, swapped her professional responsibilities for much-deserved vacation days.)
It was my first time reporting from federal court, and the stakes made even a fairly minor procedural date feel important, worthy of the rows of media that filled the courtroom. “Avenatti is going crazy on Twitter,” one reporter said over my shoulder as we waited for the hearing to begin, referring to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti. “If only I had my phone I could pre-write this.” Cell phones and laptops are barred from the federal courtroom.
Next to me sat a grizzled defense attorney who’d decided to stop by the hearing. He’d long known some of the lawyers in the case, he said.
“I’ve represented bad guys, like doctors and lawyers, and good guys like murderers,” he joked, before pivoting. “You remember Serpico?”
Such was the atmosphere: Absurd, on some level, despite the weight of the proceedings before us.
Avenatti, alone, and Cohen, flanked by lawyers, appeared within a few minutes of each other. I never saw them make eye contact; Cohen, for the most part, stared straight ahead with his head tilted slightly back, elbows resting on the table in front of him. He seemed tired, or pissed. Probably both.
Avenatti, forehead a perpetual wrinkle, occasionally donned sleek, black-framed reading glasses, over which he glared at the lawyers representing Trump and the Trump Organization, to his right, and those representing Cohen, in the row ahead of them.
Rather than standing to address the court from his seat as most other lawyers did, Avenatti asked permission several times to use a podium at the other side of the courtroom.
Judge Kimba Wood, while quashing Cohen’s team’s eager requests for more time to review seized documents, was no friend of Avenatti’s, either.
“That was quite the tale,” Avenatti said at one point, in response to Cohen lawyer Stephen Ryan’s impassioned argument against Avenatti’s pro hac vice motion to admit him to a court where he doesn’t practice.
“Let’s not comment on it,” Wood said, silencing him.
Avenatti appeared to recognize fairly quickly that Wood was lukewarm on his schtick. (The defense lawyer seated next to me commented before the hearing, with some foresight, that Avenatti didn’t really have any business being a part of the case. A few hours later, Avenatti would announce the same, withdrawing his pro hac vice motion.)
At one point, Joanna Hendon, representing Donald Trump at the hearing, noted that she’d walked by a camera bank and eight microphones in front of the court house on her way in. The reporters, she indicated, were there for the Avenatti show.
Avenatti countered a few minutes later: “If anyone believes those mics are going away” if he withdraws his motion to join the case, he said, “they’re fooling themselves.”
And he was right: The reporters in the room cared, for the most part, about the potential criminal charges hanging over the head of the President’s personal fixer.
Avenatti was simply a bonus. But a significant one. As I hurried from the courtroom and into a Chinatown cafe to write this report, I found myself dodging a shuffling mass of cameras, each tussling for a better view of the celebrity litigator.
Avenatti was back in his natural habitat, beamed into homes worldwide. “Hey, it’s Stormy’s lawyer!” a passing New Yorker shouted.
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