The sprawling saga of Michael Cohen’s hush money payoffs has taken another bizarre turn. Shera Bechard, a former Playboy model who Cohen had arranged a payoff for in exchange for her silence about a sex scandal last year, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday.
Though Bechard’s complaint is currently sealed, the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo report she is suing three people for alleged breach of contract.
First there’s Elliott Broidy, the wealthy Trump donor who had made the payments to Bechard. Second is Keith Davidson, the former lawyer for Bechard (and Stormy Daniels, and Karen McDougal) who had negotiated that and other hush money deals with Cohen. Third is Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’s new lawyer, who is trying to get Daniels’s nondisclosure agreement struck down.
The Journal reported the existence of the deal in April, saying it was made because Broidy had an affair with Bechard in 2017 and impregnated her (and that she had an abortion afterward). So, toward the end of last year, Cohen and Davidson negotiated a deal for Broidy to pay Bechard $1.6 million, in installments, for her silence.
But earlier this week, Broidy announced through his new lawyer that he would stop paying Bechard. He said that Keith Davidson had breached the secrecy of the agreement by sharing information about it with Michael Avenatti. Now Bechard is suing all three men.
All of this would merely be a strange and tawdry side story in the many scandals of Michael Cohen — if not for rampant speculation among liberals that it may have been Donald Trump, and not Elliott Broidy, who had the affair with Bechard.
There is no hard evidence that this is the case. But the argument, made at New York magazine by Paul Campos, is essentially this: We already know Cohen paid off porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal to hush up alleged Trump affairs. So, Campos posits, might not Cohen’s Bechard payment be another similar incident, with Broidy’s supposed involvement a cover story? (The reason Trump would be extra-motivated to hush this one up, the theory goes, is that it involves an abortion, which could infuriate many of his religious right supporters.)
Avenatti himself has fanned this speculation. “I think at some point we are going to find out, if in fact, the client in connection with the settlement was, in fact, Mr. Broidy,” he said on television in April. And in responding to the new lawsuit, he referred to “Mr. Broidy (or whomever impregnated her)” and referred to Bechard’s “relationship, or lack thereof, with Mr. Broidy.”
Please see the below statement regarding the new lawsuit filed by Ms. Bechard against Mr. Broidy et al. in Los Angeles Superior Court. pic.twitter.com/i7gQMWLrG7— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) July 6, 2018
However, one of the two Wall Street Journal reporters who’s been covering the story for months (and who helped unearth the Stormy Daniels payoffs in the first place) has pushed back on this speculation, saying he’s “very sure” that it was Broidy and not Trump who had the affair with Bechard, and that “there is zero evidence” that Broidy is covering for Trump.
Very sure.— Joe Palazzolo (@joe_palazzolo) July 1, 2018
Meanwhile, Bechard’s new lawyer Peter Stris, who filed the suit, chided Avenatti on Twitter for feigning ignorance about why he was sued. (Avenatti soon fired back.)
That's pretty funny. It never happened. I called you after I saw your ridiculous threats in the press & you were afraid to return the call so you had someone else do it. I told him at the time that there was no basis to sue me & asked what the basis was. I'm still waiting. #Weak— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) July 6, 2018
Separately, Cohen — who’s not named in the suit — has increasingly seemed adrift from Trumpworld. He’s been signaling that he could cooperate with federal investigators, even if it involves “flipping” on Trump, and this week he hired a new lawyer, Lanny Davis, who’s a longtime ally of the Clintons. Presumably, Cohen knows the truth about what happened with Bechard.
In any case, whether Bechard’s suit will lead to stunning new revelations that will shake the Trump administration, or whether it’s merely exactly what it appears to be on the surface — a lawsuit about money with no connection to the president at all — isn’t yet clear.