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Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti says he had no issue releasing Michael Cohen info

Last Updated May 15, 2018 10:51 PM EDT

LOS ANGELES -- Porn actress Stormy Daniels' lawyer said Monday he did nothing wrong by distributing a report last week that detailed the finances of the president's personal attorney and showed he had charged companies a hefty price for "insight" about Mr. Trump. Michael Avenatti said in court papers filed in federal court in New York that he had a First Amendment right to publish the information that was "of the utmost public concern."

Last week Avenatti released a report that contained financial information about Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and detailed payments by several blue-chip companies that paid Cohen for insight into the new president.

Cohen's lawyers argued that Avenatti could not have legally obtained the information and contended that his conduct was so egregious that a judge should prevent him from being involved in a pending federal case in New York over the records that were seized when FBI agents raided Cohen's home and office last month.

Avenatti had sought to intervene in the case because the agents were seeking, among other things, records about a nondisclosure agreement Daniels signed days before the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Cohen in October 2016 to stay silent about an alleged tryst with Mr. Trump in 2006.

Cohen's attorneys said in a letter to the judge last week that Avenatti's report was filled with errors and said some of the foreign transactions it alleged actually pertained to another Michael Cohen. But they said Avenatti also "appears to be in possession of some information from Mr. Cohen's actual bank records."

They asked the judge to deny permission for Avenatti, whose office is in Newport Beach, California, to practice in federal court in New York.

In his response Monday, Avenatti said Cohen's request "must be summarily rejected" because Cohen didn't cite any sufficient legal reason for denying him permission to practice in New York.

He argued that several of the companies identified in the report, which he titled "Project Sunlight," had confirmed they paid Cohen. Financial documents reviewed by The Associated Press appeared to back up much of Avenatti's report.

Those companies included AT&T, which paid Cohen $50,000 a month under a one-year contract; pharmaceutical giant Novartis, which paid Cohen $1.2 million for services; and Korea Aerospace Industries.

"Tellingly, Mr. Cohen does not dispute any of these facts in his submission for one simple reason -- he can't," Avenatti wrote.

According to Avenatti's memo, Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire, and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, "routed" eight payments totaling about $500,000 to Cohen's company between January and August 2017. The payments were made by Columbus Nova, an American investment company, Avenatti alleges.

An attorney for Columbus Nova said the company hired Cohen after Mr. Trump's inauguration in January 2017 as a business consultant "regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures," but said it had nothing to do with Vekselberg.

"That Mr. Cohen may be dismayed that these damaging revelations have come to light and have been proven true does not come remotely close to justifying a denial of Mr. Avenatti's right to appear before this court," Avenatti said.

Meanwhile, three Democratic senators are asking AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson for more information about the telecom giant's contract with Cohen. The questions come after Stephenson admitted in an email to employees last week that AT&T had entered a consulting contract with Cohen to "help us understand how the President and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company, including regulatory reform at the FCC, corporate tax reform and antitrust enforcement."

In the end, AT&T says Cohen "did no legal or lobbying work" for the company, though they did pay his limited liability corporation Essential Consultants at least $200,000, and perhaps as much as $600,000. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden and Richard Blumenthal noted that those payments were made, in spite of the fact that Cohen lacks experience and knowledge about tax reform, antitrust issues, and FCC policy.

The three senators have 16 questions for Stephenson about who at AT&T set up the contract with Essential Consultants, what its timeframe was, how the payments were structured and who proposed them, and how AT&T determined that Cohen "was qualified to advise on policy matters."