How Fox News Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Michael Avenatti

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Once upon a time Fox News gleefully mocked its cable-news rivals for their breathless promotion of disgraced former Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti, who was once hyped as Donald Trump’s “worst nightmare” and even floated as a possible presidential candidate.

Now that the convicted felon is defending the ex-president as a “victim of the system” in the hush money case, begging to testify on Trump’s behalf and trashing Daniels, his former client, as an unstable liar, the tables have turned: Avenatti is now a commodity in the Fox News universe, scoring a primetime interview from prison, where he is serving 19 combined years for embezzlement, extortion, and fraud.

The conservative cable giant isn’t exactly running wall-to-wall coverage of the ex-lawyer like MSNBC and CNN did back in the Trump administration. Still, it is striking to see Fox, which famously labeled Avenatti the “Creepy Porn Lawyer,” give him a largely sympathetic platform now that he’s peddling a pro-Trump message.

Avenatti appeared on Trump confidant Sean Hannity’s show on Wednesday night to rail against the “grossly unfair” trial against the former president, who currently faces 34 counts of allegedly falsifying business records related to the $130,000 payment made to keep Daniels quiet about a sexual affair prior to the 2016 election. The prison inmate grumbled to Fox News that not even “serial killers [are] prosecuted at the same time in different cases,” referencing the multiple criminal cases that Trump is facing over the next few months. “The timing is wrong. The case is wrong. And he’s not receiving due process,” he added.

Stormy Daniels’ Disgraced Ex-Lawyer Trashes Trump Case in Jailhouse MSNBC Interview

Hannity, who openly feuded with Avenatti for years, seemed to express sympathy for the celebrity lawyer’s lengthy prison sentence, observing that this appears to be a “different Michael Avenatti” than in years past.

“Is it your experience that contributed to this? Or is this the entire totality of what happened with you and your former client, the totality of what happened with Michael Cohen, the totality of what happened in your own life?” Hannity wondered, referencing Trump’s former fixer (and the Fox News star’s ex-attorney) who will be a star witness in the hush-money trial.

Avenatti, meanwhile, unsubtly compared his plight to that of the twice-impeached ex-president and Hannity’s late-night phone pal, adding that it’s “not true” that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

“I’ve learned a lot over the last five to six years, Sean. I’ve been a product of the system if you will. I’ve been ground through the system fighting three cases at one time,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about the media. I’ve learned a lot about what it’s like when the government comes for you, when you’re targeted.”

Almost as if he were pleading with Trump himself, Avenatti promised Hannity that if he were called as a witness in the case, he’d be able to “directly and truthfully” handle the prosecution’s efforts to discredit him and “would be a much better witness than Michael Cohen could ever hope to be.”

The Hannity primetime interview comes weeks after Avenatti resurfaced with his jailhouse call-in to MSNBC host Ari Melber’s show, in which he first revealed that he felt the case was “stale” and “wrong.”

Besides trashing the prosecution’s case as a “mistake,” Avenatti also told Melber that Cohen’s testimony had the “potential to be a disaster,” citing the ex-Trump lawyer’s past convictions and false public statements. Cohen pleaded guilty and served three years in prison for tax evasion and campaign finance law violations related to the scheme to not only buy Daniels’ silence but also to kill other potentially negative Trump stories before the 2016 election.

Following that MSNBC appearance, Fox News and other Murdoch media outlets began reaching out to the imprisoned ex-attorney for his take on the hush-money case and whether he’d be willing to testify on Trump’s behalf.

Stormy Daniels’ Disgraced Ex-Lawyer Trashes Trump Case in Jailhouse MSNBC Interview

In an interview with The New York Post last week, Avenatti claimed that he’d actually been talking with the former president’s legal defense team for a while and had expressed his willingness to be a witness against Daniels. He further insisted that Trump would win the election if held today.

“Stormy Daniels is going to say whatever she believes is going to assist Stormy Daniels and putting more money in her pocket,” Avenatti told The Post. “If Stormy Daniels’ lips are moving, she’s lying for money.”

He added: “I don’t know how you can possibly put someone who makes those claims on the witness stand and use them as a star witness in a case against a former president of the United States who’s running for president. That is just absolutely ludicrous to me.”

Avenatti embraced MAGA talking points by claiming that much like Trump, he too is a victim of a weaponized justice system. “I think that we were both targeted by the justice system,” he claimed. “There’s a lot of people on the left that were very concerned about my potential rise within the Democratic Party and my potential rise in Democratic politics. And the fact that I was not someone that was easily controlled.”

In a separate interview with Fox News Digital two days later, Avenatti portrayed Trump as a “victim of the system” before referring to himself in the third person. “And that's something that I never thought I would say,” he declared. “So if Michael Avenatti is coming to his defense, and I was one of his staunchest opponents for a very significant period of time, that should tell people something.”

In a bit of an ironic twist, Avenatti lambasted state and federal prosecutors for “trying to make a name for themselves” with the Trump cases, specifically calling out Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for grandstanding. “Each of them wants to be governor or president or both at some point," he said. “I mean, it's ludicrous. And the fact that so many people on the left are OK with this because the defendant is Donald Trump really makes me sick to my stomach.”

This all led to the inevitable primetime phoner with Hannity, a man Avenatti once enthusiastically ridiculed when he was an anti-Trump hero for so-called “#Resistance” cable-news consumers.

For instance, when Hannity was infamously revealed as a secret Cohen client following the 2018 FBI raid on the fixer’s home and office, Avenatti—who had begun representing Daniels the month before—took great joy in bashing the Fox News star. "The disclosure relating to Sean Hannity proved my point exactly. He is radioactive,” Avenatti told the press in April 2018, adding that there was “significant danger” to Trump since he “trusted Mr. Cohen as his fixer for years.”

During the monthslong period in 2018 when he was blanketing cable and broadcast news on a daily basis, Avenatti also took to trolling Hannity for not debating him in primetime on Fox News.

“I think he talks a very good game. But when it really comes down to it he doesn't want anyone on his show to challenge him,” Avenatti said while co-hosting The View in August 2018. He also noted that the two ran into each other at a Hollywood Reporter event earlier that year and Hannity promised to have him on his show, only to apparently renege on the offer.

After he was hired by Daniels in March 2018 to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement she signed as part of the hush-money deal over the alleged Trump affair, Avenatti quickly became a ubiquitous cable news fixture—except for Fox News.

Resistance Grifter Michael Avenatti Gets What He Had Coming

In the year following his arrival on the national scene, Avenatti made 121 appearances on CNN and showed up another 108 times on MSNBC. While he granted another 24 interviews to broadcast news, he only appeared twice on Fox News—one of which was an infamous sitdown with Tucker Carlson in which he was referred to as “Creepy Porn Lawyer,” the former primetime star’s preferred nickname for Avenatti.

It all came crashing down for Avenatti in the fall of 2018. After being lauded as a serious presidential candidate by pundits on both sides of the aisle, he was arrested for felony domestic violence in November. (The Los Angeles city attorney’s office ultimately decided not to file charges in the case.)

Months later, he was arrested in New York City on charges that he attempted to extort $25 million from Nike via settlement offers on behalf of his clients. He would be found guilty in February 2020 and eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison on these counts.

At the same time as the extortion charges, he was also accused of embezzlement and wire fraud and eventually charged with stealing money from his clients to purchase a multi-million dollar jet. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charges in 2022 and received 14 years in prison.

The hits kept coming in May 2019 when he was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft over allegations that he stole $300,000 from Daniels while negotiating her 2018 book deal. He was convicted in February 2022 on these charges and sentenced to four years in prison. Daniels, who terminated her agreement with Avenatti in March 2019, has also blamed him for initiating her defamation suit against Trump against her wishes. She was ordered to pay the ex-president’s legal fees after it was dismissed.

Since Avenatti’s spectacular fall from grace, Fox News has frequently ridiculed its network rivals for giving the disgraced litigator so much free airtime. The conservative cable giant has regularly run montages of cable news and late-night hosts gushing over Avenatti during the height of his fame, generally when he was hit with another lengthy prison sentence.

Hannity has even gotten in on the act. When former CNN media host Brian Stelter was promoting his upcoming book on Fox News in February 2020, Hannity mocked the ex-Reliable Sources anchor for once declaring that Avenatti was a legitimate presidential hopeful.

While it’s fairly easy to ascertain Hannity’s newfound admiration for the toxic ex-lawyer—a transparent change of heart over his siding with Trump in an ongoing criminal trial—it also seems fairly obvious why Avenatti is looking to curry favor with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

Though Avenatti once sued Fox News for defamation over their reporting on his domestic violence arrest, claiming the network’s coverage was “a malicious effort to destroy his reputation” (the complaint was tossed out), the right-wing network is the top platform for him to reach the ex-president.

Avenatti, who is scheduled to sit in a Southern California prison until at least the next decade, insisted to the New York Post that his comments about Trump’s trial are not part of a fishing expedition for clemency if the ex-president returns to the White House. “I’m not saying any of this because I’m seeking a pardon,” he asserted.

Others aren’t so convinced.

“Federal inmate Michael Avenatti continued his Hail Mary bid to receive a pardon in the event that erstwhile nemesis Donald Trump becomes president again,” Mediaite’s Michael Luciano wrote, adding that while he had “no inside information… on the other hand, come on.”

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