Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti square off as he questions her directly during his fraud trial
Daniels testified Avenatti stole from her while representing her in her case against Donald Trump
Stormy Daniels took the witness stand Thursday at Michael Avenatti's trial, telling a jury she was "very, very angry" and felt "betrayed and stupid" when she was told that the California lawyer she had teamed up with against former U.S. president Donald Trump had stolen from her.
Her testimony, which lasted over three hours and will continue Friday, was a highly anticipated moment at the trial of a man who parlayed his representation of Daniels in her legal battles against the president in 2018 into a high-profile role as a Trump adversary.
Prosecutors say he cheated the entertainer and adult film actress of nearly $300,000 US of her $800,000 publisher's advance on her 2018 autobiography, Full Disclosure.
Daniels answered a prosecutor's questions until the final few minutes of the day, when the showdown with Avenatti became a direct confrontation after Avenatti began representing himself on the trial's second day.
It began cordially, with Avenatti addressing her with: "Ms. Daniels, good afternoon."
"Good afternoon," Daniels responded.
Avenatti asked her how he was expected to be paid for all the work he did for her since their contract only called for her to pay him $100 US.
She responded that he was expected to draw money from a crowd-funding website that raised $650,000 US for her legal expenses along with a share of any proceeds he obtained in lawsuits against Trump.
"Any other way?" Avenatti asked.
"Not that we agreed upon," Daniels answered.
Angry, shocked, betrayed
Before long, Avenatti was asking her more personal questions, including whether she has said she has the ability to speak to dead people.
"Yes, I've said that," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman confined most of his questions earlier to the breakdown that occurred in the Avenatti-Daniels relationship between the summer of 2019 and the following February.
When Daniels was asked her reaction upon learning in February 2019 that payments from her publisher that were made months earlier had never been passed along to her, she said she was "very, very angry. Shocked. Disbelief. Hurt, and I felt very betrayed and stupid."
Avenatti has insisted he is innocent. A lawyer for Avenatti said at the trial's start on Monday that Daniels owed him a portion of her book income for his work for her after she had only been charged $100 for his representation.
Daniels began her testimony late in the morning after she was summoned to the witness stand, which was enclosed in a see-through plastic box with a special air filter so that she could remove her mask.
"The government calls Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels," Sobelman said before she entered the courtroom, which was specially configured to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The prosecutor asked Daniels to identify Avenatti in the courtroom, prompting Avenatti to stand.
"He's the gentleman standing up in the blue shirt," she said.
Among Sobelman's first questions was to request if Daniels preferred to use any other name.
"Stormy Daniels," she said, explaining that was her stage name.
After Sobelman asked her about Avenatti's representation of her in 2018, he asked her why the attorney-client relationship ended and she hired another lawyer.
"I hired a new attorney because he stole from me and lied to me," she said.
Daniels said she had hired Avenatti in early 2018 to represent her in her claims against Trump. Daniels sought legal representation because she wanted to speak publicly about her claims that she had a sexual tryst with Trump over a decade earlier. She had been paid $130,000 US days before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent. Trump has denied the claims.
She said that since the formal agreement called for her to pay Avenatti $100 US, she gave it to him in cash at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and he used it to pay for lunch.
Sobelman asked her if she had ever agreed with Avenatti to pay him more than the $100.
"No," she testified.
Daniels was shown many of her text communications with Avenatti between July 2018 and February 2018 as she became increasingly frustrated and angry that she had not been paid as Avenatti continued to blame the publisher.
She threatened to go public against the publisher several times, but a letter from her agent's office showed her in mid-February 2019 that the payments she had not seen had been received by Avenatti as much as six months earlier into an account she did not recognize and had not authorized.
Sobelman asked her what her reaction to the revelations were.
"I don't know if there is a word stronger than furious," she said, "and shocked."
Daniels said she has had no communications with Avenatti since February 2019.
Avenatti, 50, has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identify theft. The trial was in its fourth day of testimony.