Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer Misleads Viewers About Warrant Used on Cohen, Gets Corrected on Air


May 3, 2018

An NBC reporter on Thursday corrected Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, after Avenatti made a misleading claim on air about the warrant used to wiretap President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

NBC News initially reported Thursday that federal officials wiretapped Cohen and intercepted at least one call between Cohen and the White House. The wiretap was in place weeks before the law enforcement officials raided Cohen's office and home. However, NBC had to correct the report later in the afternoon to say Cohen's phones were being monitored by a "pen register," which don't capture actual content but rather the numbers of ingoing and outgoing calls.

MSNBC host Kasie Hunt asked Avenatti to clarify his claims after the lawyer said that in addition to phone calls, text messages were also intercepted by federal officials.

"Mr. Avenatti, I want to clarify: you said you understand that text message conversations were also included. Is that a piece of information you've come into in the course of your work on this case or are you speculating?" Hunt asked.

"I'm not speculating; that's a fact," Avenatti said.

Avenatti had asserted earlier that Cohen intended to destroy evidence, another claim Hunt asked him to clarify.

"You also said that you believed that some of these intercepted text messages showed that Cohen intended to destroy evidence. Is that something also that you know to be a fact or are you speculating and suggesting that's a possibility?" Hunt asked.

"I didn't state that it was the intercepted text messages," Avenatti said. "What I stated was, I think that ultimately it will be shown that the intercepted communications–whether those be by text, email, or verbal communications–served as the basis for the warrants ... In order to obtain three warrants of that magnitude against a sitting president's personal attorney, that's an incredibly high bar."

Avenatti continued and said the warrants were obtained under exigent circumstances.

"One of the only ways that you can obtain something like that is if you showed exigent circumstance, an emergency almost whereby it was likely that the target was going to be destroying evidence and documents," Avenatti said. "I think ultimately it will be shown that these intercepted communications served–at least in part, a substantial part–as a basis for those warrants."

NBC reporter Tom Winter quickly followed up and corrected Avenatti.

"I just want to jump in on one quick thing. It's not to cast any doubt on the information that Michael has," Winter said. "I want to be clear for our audience. This was not an exigent circumstance warrant. None of the warrants that were associated with this were done for exigent circumstances."

Winter went on to explain what type of warrants were issued and what would qualify as an exigent circumstance.

"On the wiretap, but [also] all the warrants, all the warrants in this case, my understanding is, based on several discussions with people that have knowledge of the matter, is that these warrants were something that were typed up and filed and the reason for executing the search warrant did not have to do with necessarily something that was perhaps imminent as it related to the destruction of documents," Winter said. "If this was an exigent circumstance warrant, the way that warrant would be, is if there was an imminent threat to life, property, something along those lines that somebody would say, 'you know what, your Honor, we need to get up on this wiretap now.'"

Avenatti clarified what he meant when he mentioned exigent circumstances.

"And I just want to clarify, when I talk about exigent circumstances, I'm not talking about the warrant that led to the wiretap. Which is what your report is. I'm talking about the subsequent warrants: the search warrants related to the home, the office, and the hotel room," Avenatti said. "When I talk about exigent circumstance, I'm using that as a term of art as opposed to a term of science. Meaning that they would have had to have shown some concern relating to the likely destruction of documents in my mind in order to get the magistrate to sign off on something of that magnitude."

Avenatti filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump on his client’s behalf Monday, which followed a prior suit about the hush agreement Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen is said to have made with Daniels. Avenatti chided Trump for being undisciplined and then compared himself to Mueller, who is leading the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

UPDATE: 5:25 P.M.: This article was updated to show NBC News' correction to its initial report that Cohen's phones were wiretapped. They were monitored by a pen register.

Published under: President Trump