Nobody would ever describe Michael Avenatti as circumspect. But this month, the outspoken lawyer, Donald Trump adversary, and media enthusiast appears to have achieved historic levels of recklessness, culminating in the FBI arresting him Monday morning in the lavish Manhattan offices of the power firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, the man who made the president of the United States and his fixer abandon enforcement of a sordid hush-money agreement found himself charged with serious federal crimes in both New York and Los Angeles. True to form, he seems to have talked his way there, and is trying to talk his way out again.
Avenatti—who recently sneered at Michael Cohen’s lawyer for “representing a felon”—has only been charged with crimes, not convicted. Though he habitually makes flamboyant accusations of criminality, he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. But nobody who has followed his antics can ignore how very on brand the accusations are.
The United States attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Avenatti Monday with a conspiracy to commit extortion against the athletic behemoth Nike. The affidavit in support of the complaint describes Avenatti approaching Nike’s attorneys at Boies Schiller and threatening to hold a press conference accusing Nike of illegal payments to high-school athletes on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call. Avenatti, the feds allege, threatened that he would orchestrate publicity to take billions off of Nike’s stock value unless it paid his client—a coach who previously had a contract with Nike—$1.5 million. He also allegedly demanded that Nike hire him and a confederate to conduct an “internal investigation” at a cost of $15 million to $25 million.