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Michael Cohen wants to scrap the Stormy Daniels NDA

He wants the $130,000 in hush money back, too. But Michael Avenatti sees it as a way to avoid a deposition.

Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti as they exit the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York in April 2018.
Stormy Daniels and lawyer Michael Avenatti exit the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York in April 2018.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Michael Cohen wants to let Stormy Daniels out of the nondisclosure agreement she signed to keep allegations about her affair with President Donald Trump under wraps — and he wants the $130,000 he paid her to do so back.

Essential Consultants, the company Cohen used to make the hush payment, filed a status report in a Los Angeles federal court on Friday to rescind the 2016 agreement that was meant to keep Daniels from speaking out but has become part of Cohen’s recent legal troubles.

”Today, Essential Consultants LLC and Michael Cohen have effectively put an end to the lawsuits filed against them by Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels,” Brent Blakely, Cohen’s lawyer, told CNN. “The rescission of the Confidential Settlement Agreement will result in Ms. Clifford returning to Essential Consultants the $130,000 she received in consideration, as required by California law.”

Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty in August to eight counts of tax and bank fraud and campaign finance violations. The campaign finance violations were directly related to the Daniels payment made ahead of the 2016 election. (Cohen also implicated Trump in the illegal payoff.)

The Wall Street Journal first reported Trump’s alleged 2006 affair with Daniels in January, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and the $130,000 payout. Daniels in March sued Trump and Essential Consultants, Cohen’s shell company, claiming the hush agreement is void because Trump never signed it.

Friday’s filing would seek to let Daniels off the hook for the nondisclosure agreement — but it’s not a deal she is eager to take, according to her lawyer, Michael Avenatti. In a pair of tweets late Friday, Avenatti said he sees the maneuver as an attempt by Cohen to bar him from deposing the president and Cohen. “My client and I will never settle the cases absent full disclosure and accountability,” he said.

The filing might close one chapter for Cohen — or it might not

Trump and Cohen initially said that Daniels could be liable for damages of up to $20 million if she spoke out, but that didn’t stop her. According to CNN, that’s part of why Cohen wants to rescind the NDA. The porn actress has already said plenty about her alleged affair with Trump, including with Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes in March, so trying to block her no longer benefits him. He just wants the $130,000 back.

If the NDA is rescinded, Daniels will be able to speak freely about her alleged affair with Trump without the fear of legal or financial repercussions. As the Wall Street Journal points out, scrapping the agreement wouldn’t end all of Cohen’s and Daniel’s legal entanglements with one another: Daniels also has a defamation claim against Cohen related to his public comments. Both Cohen and Daniels have set up separate crowdfunding pages to help them raise money for their legal battles, including against one another.

The dismissal of the hush agreement lawsuit would likely mean that Avenatti wouldn’t be able to keep trying to depose Trump or Cohen about the payment, and that’s where Avenatti has taken issue. He told the Journal he would be “shocked” if Daniels agreed. “This is a Hail Mary to try and avoid [a deposition], that’s my first guess,” Avenatti told CNN.

Daniels and Avenatti are scheduled to appear on ABC’s The View next week, where they’ve teased a “big announcement.”

As for the $130,000, Daniels already offered to pay it back months ago, though it’s unclear who would keep the money if she does return it. Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment after it was made.

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