Avenatti does not plan to testify in his defense in Stormy Daniels U.S. fraud case

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Former attorney Michael Avenatti goes on trial in New York

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK – U.S. lawyer Michael Avenatti said on Monday he does not intend to take the stand to defend himself at trial on charges he defrauded his former client, the adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

“At this time I’m not intending on testifying,” Avenatti told U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman on Monday outside the jury’s presence.

Prosecutors say Avenatti, 50, embezzled nearly $300,000 owed to Daniels under a book deal, the latest in a series of criminal allegations that have cost Avenatti a legal career that peaked in 2018 when he successfully sued former U.S. President Donald Trump on Daniels’ behalf.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and identity theft. He has characterized the dispute with Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, as a disagreement over legal fees that has no place in criminal court.

Prosecutors rested their case in the Manhattan federal court trial on Monday, giving Avenatti the opportunity to present a defense case.

Avenatti on Friday said he was “strongly leaning in favor” of testifying in his own defense, but on Monday he said he was leaning in the opposite direction.

The brash lawyer has been representing himself in the Manhattan federal court case since last Tuesday, the trial’s second day.

It is risky for criminal defendants to testify in their own defense, because it exposes them to potentially aggressive cross-examination by prosecutors.

Daniels, who testified as a prosecution witness last week, is known for receiving $130,000 in hush money from Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen in exchange for keeping quiet ahead of the 2016 election about a sexual liaison she says she had with Trump, who denies the affair happened.

Avenatti successfully sued Trump to get Daniels out of an agreement not to disclose the affair.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)