A new Vanity Fair story on the rapid fall of attorney Michael Avenatti draws a picture of an abusive egotist, beset by anger issues and desire for attention in his public fight with the White House.
His ex-girlfriend accused Avenatti of physical and emotional abuse, and media figures anonymously described him as having an explosive temper and volatile personality behind the scenes of his countless television appearances.
Avenatti dazzled the Resistance and channeled his representation of porn actress Stormy Daniels into celebrity status, representing what HBO host Bill Maher described as the potential tip of the spear to bring down the Trump White House. He even flirted with running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, before he was brought down by an arrest for domestic violence–the charges were dropped—and now criminal charges for a variety of financial crimes in New York and California.
His ex-girlfriend Mareli Miniutti, 23 years his junior, described him to Vanity Fair as controlling, at one point berating her as a “f—ing idiot” when she started crying about an eating disorder when they were on their way out for dinner. He also grew angry when she wanted to get a waitressing job rather than be solely financially supported by him, telling her she could be the next First Lady.
“It was my fault at the end of everything,” she said. “That was just something I got used to. He would yell at me for bringing something up by asking if that’s really how I wanted to spend what little time we had together. I wanted to be a supportive partner, so I let it slide off … but I felt really scared when I would see one side of him, then the other, within a half-hour period. Up and down, up and down.”
She said he became physically abusive four months into their relationship, beginning last February:
It was his birthday, and he had wanted to spend the night before going out with a friend who was in town. She went out separately with her friends, and when Avenatti returned to his apartment and saw that she was not yet home, he texted her, asking where she was. She said she told him that she would be home in an hour. When she got there, she said she could tell that he was drunk. She had been drinking, too, and he laid into her. “He was upset that I could be so disrespectful and selfish, on his birthday. If he texts me that he’s home, he told me that I should come right away and that that’s how relationships work.” She had gotten into bed before he jumped up and started yelling at her to “get the fuck out. Get the fuck out” of the apartment. “I don’t want you here tonight,” he told her. When she got up to leave, she said, he literally threw her out the door into the hallway, where she hit her head on the wall. “I made excuses after that,” she said. “The excuse that time was that we were both drunk and emotional, and I really did not believe that he would do something like that again.”
However, she said it did occur again, detailing the incident for which Avenatti was arrested in November. According to Miniutti, he dragged her through the apartment and threw her in the hallway after an argument about money. She said he looked “like a psychopath:”
“I was so shocked and shaking that I couldn’t even stand up. I reached up to ring the doorbell for the apartment across the hallway and he saw me. ‘Are you fucking insane?’ he said.” He pulled her back inside and she warned him that if he did not give her phone back and let her go, she would count to three and start screaming. She started to panic when he didn’t budge. “That’s when I really started to freak and I asked him to please not come any closer.” His demeanor immediately changed, she said. “He said, ‘Baby, come here. We’re so much better than this.’ I can’t even describe that moment and what his eyes looked like. Like a psychopath. All I could think was, He is going to hurt you.” She made her way to the guest bedroom, put on pants, and made a break for the door. The elevator did not come fast enough, she said, so she walked toward the service elevators, where she knew there were cameras. He got in with her, pleading with her to not do this. She went down to the security desk in the lobby, where the attendants ultimately called the police.
Avenatti acknowledged he joked with some women with whom he was romantically involved about them being the next First Lady, but he has staunchly denied any physical abuse.
In addition to the story’s stark details of his private life, media figures anonymously told Fox that Avenatti was vulgar, had a “terrible temper” and was a “rage-oholic:”
Behind the scenes, his behavior was even more volatile. “He had a terrible temper,” one prime-time anchor told me. “He never lost it with me, or really with any of the talent, as far as I know, because it was mostly for the bookers or the people who were behind the scenes. But he would tell people, ‘I’m going to fucking bury you. Why the fuck would you do that?’ if he didn’t like something.” A number of reporters recalled that he would physically invade their space. “His nose gets millimeters from your face and it’s clear he knows no boundaries,” one broadcast reporter and producer told me.
Last spring, a print outlet published a story that called into question whether Avenatti had paid someone for information that would have helped his client. According to two people, he confronted the reporter on a cable set to express his displeasure and started to shout: “Fuck me once, shame on you.” People came up to her afterward to make sure she was O.K. “That’s how aggressive and alarming it was.”
His temper often flared when producers and bookers tried to vet stories he was involved in. “It felt like we were enabling a total rage-oholic,” one booker told me. “It was pathological.”
Avenatti, once a a potential Democratic presidential candidate after his legal face-offs with Trump, tweeted Tuesday he expected to be indicted by the Southern District of New York for an alleged scheme to extort Nike. He has also been accused of tax, wire and bank fraud in California.
According to the report, Avenatti’s life was “unraveling” following a second divorce and mounting financial woes when he connected with the client who would make him famous, Stormy Daniels. On behalf of the porn actress who claims she slept with Trump in 2006, Avenatti sued to void her non-disclosure agreement over the alleged affair, and Michael Cohen eventually went to prison for his role in paying her off in a campaign finance violation.
However, he also drew severe liberal derision last fall when he represented Julie Swetnick during the Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh. Swetnick swore she’d witnessed Kavanaugh spiking girls’s drinks so they could be gang-raped at parties in the 1980s, but she later backtracked and even outright contradicted her already implausible story. Some progressives thought her wild story undermined the claim made by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her; in the end, Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed.
Vanity Fair writer Emily Jane Fox described Avenatti as crying on four separate occasions during their interview. She told Morning Joe on Wednesday she fully expected him to cancel on her, since it came a day after California officials handed down the 36-count indictment against him. Yet he showed up anyway, in spite of his attorneys telling him it was a terrible idea.
Liberal media figures fawned over Avenatti before his fall from grace, calling him a “folk hero” and “the savior of the republic.” Along with showing up seemingly daily on CNN and MSNBC, Avenatti appeared on on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Today, The View, The Circus, among other shows.
His notoriety led him to consider running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. One host, liberal former Republican Nicolle Wallace, said on MSNBC that a speech he planned to give in Iowa “hit a lot of the right notes” and she said it would be foolish for Democrats to “underestimate” him.
Avenatti claimed he was only being investigated because of the threat he represented to Trump.
“The government didn’t begin to look at charging me criminally until I became one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat, to the president of the United States, and anyone who thinks differently is a fool,” he said.