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Randi Kreiss

Diagnosis: The liberal press contracted MAS


MAS? That would be Michael Avenatti Syndrome.

From the torrent of allegations and indictments that flowed from the White House in the early days of the Trump presidency, out stepped Michael Avenatti. For a few months, he looked like a hero to those of us hoping to restore law and order to the presidency. He came forward to represent Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, by filing a lawsuit to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement she had signed regarding an alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006.

Neither Trump nor the Republicans in power seemed to care that the newly elected commander in chief had allegedly made a deal to silence a former lover. But then, he wouldn’t be the first American president to get tripped up by stepping out.

The problem was that the Stormy affair was just a minor event in a succession of morally outrageous and ethically egregious behaviors in and around the Oval Office. Was arranging to keep Daniels quiet in the same league of malfeasance as trying to get FBI Chief James Comey to drop the Flynn investigation? And then firing him? Or as evil as separating children from their parents as part of an anti-immigration border policy? Hard to say. It’s difficult to calibrate the level of mendacity involved in a single escapade when there has been so much bad behavior.

Avenatti, in a perfect storm of timing, politics and personality, leaped onto the public stage. He was a made-for-TV star, powerful-looking, exceedingly articulate, flamboyant and redolent of menace. The press couldn’t get enough of him.

On air he was unnervingly controlled; he sparred with pros and never lost a thought or his equanimity. He was a guest on MSNBC, with big-time anchors like Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber repeatedly inviting him for on-air interviews. Within a year, Avenatti did a couple of hundred sit-downs. He was in the papers every day, stirring the political pot, vowing to take down Michael Cohen and Trump and swearing his fealty to democracy and this particular democracy, the USA.

Avenatti did not emerge fully formed as a legend in his own time. There was a forward and upward arc to his career. He went to the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown Law School, then worked for top firms, accruing huge fees and a reputation as a relentless litigator. In his spare time he was a world-class racecar driver, a husband and father.

He always had an eye on the political scene. While still in law school, he worked for a firm run by Rahm Emanuel, doing political opposition research. In 2003, Georgetown Law School created the Michael J. Avenatti award for pre-trial and trial advocacy, and made him the first recipient.

There followed years of reputation-building, high-profile cases that won him both kudos and immense wealth. He was riding high for a decade or more.

Then he decided to represent Daniels and take on Cohen and Trump. And when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was going through his congressional hearing, Avenatti represented a woman who accused Kavanaugh of bad behavior in his youth. That case, like the Daniels case, ended in failure for Avenatti’s client, and abundant confusion over what she said and did and what Avenatti said she said and did.

Avenatti was undaunted. He dropped hints about running for president in 2020, sending out feelers and placing a few ads. He was coy on TV when asked about a possible run, saying he would only consider it if Trump were his opponent.

Then he and his career hit a wall. Last week, Avenatti became a defendant himself, facing more than three dozen federal charges in New York and California. The charges range from domestic abuse to embezzlement to fraud and extortion, and are the product of multi-year investigations.

The fact that the press swooned over Avenatti is shameful and embarrassing. However, and it is a big however, the Avenatti debacle does not mean the efforts of the working press can be discounted or doubted.

Avenatti streaked across the sky like a shooting star. He now joins the earthbound ranks of Flynn, Manafort, Gates, Cohen, Popadopoulos and Stone, all of whom would have been better off if they had never met Donald J. Trump.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.