It’s hard to say who is the bigger object lesson of the Trump resistance. Is it former Gov. Andrew Cuomo who briefly became the hero of the pandemic before falling under suspicion for lying about the death toll and for creating a hostile work environment for several of the women who worked for him. He wound up resigning, having lost the support of the people who’d once lionized him.
But Michael Avenatti arguably fell even farther. In 2018 he seemed to be on television almost every day. He became such a media rock star that there was briefly talk that he might run for president. In a new Politico profile published today, we get this vignette from an April 2018 media event in New York:
In April, he was invited to a “top 100” media event in New York at the Seagram Building. Gayle King was there, he says, Don Lemon, Anthony Scaramucci, Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity (“he was very complimentary towards me, actually”) — all of them new “friends.” Martha Stewart came running up to him to ask for a picture. “You’re going to be our savior,” he remembers Stewart saying…
At the “top 100” media event that spring, he remembers standing at the bar with MSNBC host Ari Melber, another new friend. As people came up to Avenatti, Melber leaned over and said, “You’re the belle of the ball.” An MSNBC spokesperson confirmed the exchange.
“Yeah,” Avenatti replied.
“I’m going to look back some day and say, ‘This was the peak. It was all downhill from here.’”
And that’s almost what happened. A few months later the presidential run was gaining traction and then a few months after that Avenatti wore out his welcome by bringing forward a Kavanaugh accuser whose story completely fell apart in public. Just a few months later he was arrested for attempted extortion and other crimes. He was defiant at first, still claiming that he was completely innocent and would be exonerated. And then he was convicted and became weepy when he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for his attempt to extort Nike. He’s appealing that case and still fighting three other cases in California but at some point fairly soon he’s likely to find himself in prison. From belle of the ball to friendless convict is a long, long way to fall.
For the moment, Avenatti is living with a friend in a small apartment in Venice Beach. He wears an ankle monitor and, for the most part, doesn’t go anywhere. Instead he has time to consider all he has lost:
The apartment sits beneath the flight path to the Santa Monica terminal where he used to fly jets. Engines roar overhead. The last time he flew private, in January 2020, he was shackled. Federal marshals chartered a plane to take him to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he spent 74 days in solitary confinement, in the high-security cell once occupied by El Chapo, one level above the unit where Jeffrey Epstein was held.
The last time he drove a race car, his most beloved and expensive habit, was 1,411 days ago. The last time he had a Grey Goose martini (up, two olives) and a New York strip at Craig’s, his preferred hangout in West Hollywood, was 709 days ago. The last time he wore his five-figure Patek Philippe Nautilus watch, before it was seized by the government, was 708 days ago. The last time he talked to his former client, Stormy Daniels, was February 2019. The last time a reporter asked him about running for president was March 24, 2019, the Sunday before his arrest. The last time he saw his parents was Thanksgiving 2019…
Avenatti always performed best with others watching, and no one has been watching for a very long time. He has endless days and weeks to think about the downward trajectory of his life, which he doesn’t like to do when he is alone, which, inconveniently, is most of the time. “If I start thinking about the relationships I had that I no longer have, the opportunities I had that I no longer have, the freedom I had that I no longer have, the wealth and things I used to have that I no longer have, the notoriety and the adoration I used to have that I no longer have — I mean, it’ll destroy me,” he says. “I have to push it out of my mind, because it’s been such a gargantuan fall.”
The best paragraph in the profile is this one which points out that Avenatti came to prominence demanding Democrats behave like cage fighters. But now that he’s facing significant time in an actual cage, he’s begging for nuance.
He helped create the binary media environment of the Trump era — but as he falls, eyeing the uncertain landing ahead, he is now desperate to be seen as a figure of complexity, to establish a public perception that will withstand the impact.
“I am not a Boy Scout, and I am not a serial killer,” he says. “It’s easier for us when it comes to judging other human beings, to say, ‘He or she is 100 percent good, or he or she is 100 percent bad.’ Right? Because that makes it easy.”
This story has all of the elements of a good film. Through the experience of his own downfall it seems Avenatti has learned something. He has a character arc. Is it enough though?
If Avenatti had really learned a lesson about nuance, he might feel compelled to offer some remorse for the things he’s done to others instead of just thinking about the things others have done to him. For instance, he championed the effort to accuse Judge Brett Kavanaugh of gang rape, an allegation that quickly fell apart. What are his feelings about that now? Politico quotes him saying, “I deserve no blame for what happened in connection with Kavanaugh. Period.” So much for nuance. Maybe a few years in prison will give him more time to reflect.
The one part of this story that story that does seem genuinely sad is that Avenatti has kids, something I wasn’t aware of prior to today. His daughters are now older teens, old enough to understand what is happening and to have to deal with it. Avenatti’s mess is one of his own making but his kids are also going to pay a price for it. That’s genuinely too bad.