Stormy Daniels lawyer hints at presidential run, says he would 'hit harder' to beat Trump in 2020

Mr Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, speaks to the press after a court hearing at the United States Courthouse in Los Angeles, on July 27, 2018.
Mr Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, speaks to the press after a court hearing at the United States Courthouse in Los Angeles, on July 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - As the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels, Mr Michael Avenatti has been a persistent thorn in United States President Donald Trump's side.

But in the last few days, Mr Avenatti has gone a step further, strongly suggesting he is ready to take on the President in the 2020 elections and positioning himself as someone tough enough to take on Mr Trump in a bare-knuckles battle for the White House.

"I'm going to put Donald Trump on trial," he said on Sunday on ABC's This Week.

"The only question is how many jurors are we going to have in that trial."

Mr Avenatti, who represents Ms Daniels in the legal dispute over her claim that a Trump lawyer in 2016 paid her to remain silent about an alleged affair with the then future president, traveled to the Iowa State Fair last Thursday - an almost mandatory stop for presidential aspirants in the first state to hold a presidential nominating contest every four years.

"I'm exploring a run for the presidency of the United States," the California-based attorney told the Des Moines Register newspaper, in an unusually direct statement so early in the game.

In his speech last Friday at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner - where Democratic presidential hopefuls vie to raise their profiles - he portrayed himself as a street fighter ready to aggressively take on Mr Trump.

Too many Democratic candidates, Mr Avenatti said, "have a tendency to bring nail clippers to a gunfight".

Referring to former first lady Michelle Obama's famous quote that "when they go low, we go high", Mr Avenatti offered a less polished version: "When they go low, I say we hit harder."

Mr Avenatti argued against showing too much restraint, saying: "The moment we are living in is grave. It is critical. Trump doesn't have the character, the heart, the knowledge or the wisdom to be president of the United States."

In Mr Avenatti's ABC interview, perhaps his first as a potential presidential candidate, he was asked about a range of issues.

'Great success'

He said the biggest national security threats facing the US are "North Korea and Iran".

Mr Avenatti said Mr Trump's high-profile meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June had amounted to little more than "a photo-op in front of some flags and a red carpet".

As regards Iran, he criticised Mr Trump for sending out "an all-caps tweet in the middle of the night in a situation that is that serious". Mr Avenatti also said he would release at least some of his tax returns, in contrast to Mr Trump.

As to why American voters should take the relatively unknown lawyer seriously, Mr Avenatti replied that "for over 18 years, I've been fighting on behalf of Davids versus Goliaths, some of the largest corporations in the world, con men, fraudsters; I've had great success".

Perhaps the best known of those "Davids" is Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Asked on Sunday on CNN about Mr Avenatti's political ambitions, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani pretended not to recognise the younger lawyer's name before suggesting Mr Avenatti might first want to "settle (a) bankruptcy situation" he faces.

Mr Avenatti's law firm in Newport Beach, California, has defaulted on millions of dollars in debt and is being sued by a former employee who seeks to collect on a US$10 million (S$13.7 million) judgment he won against the firm, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

The CNN interviewer pointed out to Mr Giuliani that "there's a history of people with bankruptcies in their past running for president".

"Cheap shot," Mr Giuliani replied with a wry grin. "Cheap shot."