Stormy Daniels took her star turn on the witness stand Thursday at California lawyer Michael Avenatti’s trial, telling a jury Avenatti “stole from me and lied to me.”
Her testimony was a highly anticipated moment at the trial of a man who parlayed his representation of Daniels in her legal battles against then-President Donald Trump in 2018 into a high-profile role as a Trump adversary.
Prosecutors say he cheated Daniels of nearly $300,000 of her $800,000 publisher’s advance on her 2018 autobiography, “Full Disclosure.”
Avenatti has insisted he is innocent. A lawyer for Avenatti said at the trial's start on Monday that Daniels owed him a portion of her book income for his work for her after she had only been charged $100 for his representation.
Daniels, wearing a black dress, maroon sweater and black heels, began her testimony late in the morning after she was summoned to the witness stand, which was enclosed in a see-through plastic box with a special air filter so that she could remove her mask.
“The government calls Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels,” announced Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman before she entered the specially configured courtroom to prevent against the spread of the coronavirus.
The prosecutor asked Daniels to identify Avenatti in the courtroom, prompting Avenatti to stand.
“He's the gentleman standing up in the blue shirt,” she said.
Among Sobelman's first questions was to request if Daniels preferred to use any other name.
“Stormy Daniels,” she said, explaining that was her stage name.
After Sobelman asked her about Avenatti's representation of her in 2018, he asked her why the attorney-client relationship ended and she hired another lawyer.
“I hired a new attorney because he stole from me and lied to me,” she said.
Daniels said she had hired Avenatti in early 2018 to represent her in her claims against Trump. Daniels sought legal representation because she wanted to speak publicly about her claims that she had a sexual tryst with Trump over a decade earlier. She had been paid $130,000 days before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent. Trump has denied the claims.
She said a formal agreement called for her to pay Avenatti $100. She gave it to him in cash at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and he used it to pay for lunch.
She said a crowd-funding website was used to raise $650,000 for Avenatti's representation of her.
Sobelman asked her if she had ever agreed with Avenatti to pay him more than the $100.
“No,” she testified.
Avenatti, 50, has pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identify theft. The trial was in its fourth day of testimony.