Wednesday Q+A With Michael Avenatti

"I"m not just out there winging it," says Stormy Daniels's attorney of his presidential aspirations.

Michael Avenatti (right) arrives to speak at the Hillsborough County Democrats' Summer Picnic fundraiser in Greenfield, N.H. on Aug.19.
AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter
Sept. 19, 2018, 12:18 p.m.

As he considers a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Michael Avenatti wants people to know he’s not a “fighter-come-lately.” In fact, that’s what people like about him, he told National Journal in a spontaneous phone conversation Monday afternoon. The high-velocity attorney, who gained national attention for representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in her case against President Trump, has been on a recent travel bender, set to log over three dozen more events across the country before the midterms. Hanna Trudo chatted with Avenatti about his battleground hopscotch, his political dexterity, and why people say he “absolutely should run” for president.

You’re quite serious about running. What would make the deciding difference?

I am very serious about the prospects and if I wasn’t serious, I would not be doing what I’m doing.

Other Democrats are not as upfront.

See, this is the problem. This is an example of exactly why I have a chance. This is one example. Because people don’t want this typical political-speak nonsense. Everybody knows that there’s a handful of candidates that are going to run. There’s no question. … Why don’t they just come out—they don’t have to commit—but why don’t they just come out and be honest with people?

I hear you.

If I decide to do this, I’m going to surprise a lot of people. I’ve seen this repeatedly across the country so far. People are interested in me initially because of my role as Stormy Daniels’s attorney and because of how ubiquitous I’ve been on television. So they come out to see what I’m all about. And then they hear me speak on the issues or speak as to why I think it’s so important that the Democrats get this right in 2020. And I have heard many, many, many, many times that people say, "You know, I just came out because you’re Stormy’s attorney, but I think you absolutely should run and I’d vote for you."

People already know my form. But they don’t know my substance yet. I have two decades of legal experience dealing with highly complicated issues, including constitutional-law issues. There’s not a lot of quote, “celebrity candidates” close quote, that could have written that op-ed that appeared in The New York Times last week.

You wrote that yourself, didn’t you?

I wrote it. That is my work. I wrote it on a plane from L.A. to New York.

Speaking of constitutional law, do you think it’s wise to talk about impeachment?

If the facts and the evidence support impeachment charges, then absolutely the charges should be brought. And if the facts and evidence support conviction, he should be convicted. Now, I don’t know yet whether the facts and the evidence will support impeachment charges. I can speculate based on what I’ve seen thus far that I believe that it will, but we don’t know yet.

You’ve traveled a lot. How many states have you been to so far?

I’ve been to Ohio twice, Iowa twice, New Hampshire, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, California, and I’ve got something like 38 or 39 events on the calendar between now and the midterms.

What are your top takeaways?

People have told me that they support me running because they think that I’m one of the few people that can beat Trump. They’ve told me that the Democratic Party for far too long has not had a fighter. And I’m not talking about the fighter-come-lately. I’m talking about a real fighter.

Where do you feel you fit within the Democratic Party? Are you a centrist? A progressive?

If you look at my policy positions that explains where I line up. For instance, I don’t believe the elimination of ICE is a good idea by any stretch. … On the flip side, we need to have Medicare-for-all.

I would put myself squarely in the middle of the Left. There’s certain aspects of a centrist that I’ve adopted and there’s certain aspects of being a progressive that I’ve adopted.

Have you talked to anyone about your bid? Do you have many advisers?

I’ve spoken to probably 10 to 15 of the foremost Democratic political strategists in the country.

Really? What have they said?

It’s been decided that I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to continue to gauge interest. I’ve spoken to a lot of senior people about this. I’m not just out there winging it. I’m being very methodical.

Will you take corporate PAC money?

No, we will not take any corporate PAC money. My position is that any candidate for the presidency in 2020 should not only not take corporate PAC money but should refund all corporate PAC money received from Jan. 1, 2016 to present.

Is there a fundraising mode that appeals to you the most?

I prefer small-dollar donations.

You mentioned [in our earlier conversation on Twitter] that the Democratic National Committee is supportive. Can you expand on that?

There’s a number of superdelegates that have encouraged me to run. My reception at the DNC convention in Chicago was very flattering.

Where are you heading next?

Thursday I’ll be here in Los Angeles raising money for a PAC formed called OMG WTF. Those are the initials of the states: Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida. Friday I’m going to be hosting a fundraiser for Andrew Janz, who’s running against [California Republican Rep. Devin] Nunes in San Francisco. And then this weekend I will be in Colorado for an event.

On Monday I’ll be back in Los Angeles as the keynote speaker for a Flip the 14 event, which is a PAC that was set up to flip the 14 [GOP-held] congressional districts in California. I’ll be in Texas next week. I’ll actually be in Texas and New Hampshire next week.

How would you describe your relationship with the press? You jumped on a call with me after we went back-and-forth on Twitter. Would you be accessible as a presidential candidate in that same way?

I would certainly strive to be. … I think it’s critically important that candidates be accessible.

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