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At the Avenatti fraud case, Stormy Daniels says she’s talking to the dead

NEW YORK, Jan. 28 (Reuters) - Attorney Michael Avenatti on Friday tried to undermine the credibility of porn star Stormy Daniels, the U.S. government's star witness against him during his fraud trial, by challenging her belief in paranormal activity and declared ability to talk to dead people.

For five hours after cross-examining his former client, Avenatti tried to substantiate the government's claim that he had embezzled nearly $ 300,000 from Daniels, whom he represented in lawsuits against former President Donald Trump.

Avenatti, 50, has pleaded not guilty to fraud and identity theft and has portrayed his dispute with Daniels as a disagreement over attorneys' fees. If convicted, he risks a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison.

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Daniels had described herself in testimony as an actress, writer, and director who worked on a documentary television program, "Spooky Babes," in which she and others investigated paranormal activity.

"How do you talk to the dead?" Avenatti asked Daniels on the fifth day of his trial.

"I do not know, it just happens sometimes," the 42-year-old replied, adding that she used "cards" and "meditation" and sometimes recorded the conversations.

Daniels also said she considered herself a "medium" who could communicate with non-living spirits, and said "yes" when Avenatti asked if she had experienced the "poltergeist phenomenon."

The exchanges came after Daniels on Thursday testified that Avenatti "stole from me" by redirecting $ 300,000 from her book contract to a separate account.

Avenatti became famous in 2018 when Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, hired him to help her get out of a secrecy deal with Trump.

Former lawyer Michael Avenatti, representing himself, cross-examines witness Stormy Daniels during his criminal trial at the U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan, New York City, USA, on January 27, 2022 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS / Jane Rosenberg / Photo file

Daniels is known for receiving $ 130,000 in quiet money from former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen for keeping quiet before the 2016 election on sexual encounters she said she had with Trump. The former president has denied having sex with Daniels.

AVENATTI CAN WITNESS

After jurors left the courtroom on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Sobelman said the prosecution intended to rest his case on Monday, and Avenatti said he "raised sharply in favor" of testifying in his own defense.

Avenatti took over his defense on Tuesday from two federal public defenders, citing a "breakdown" in their relationship. These attorneys remain in the case as "standby" attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who is leading the case, said that if Avenatti decides to testify, he could write out questions that one of those lawyers could read. Avenatti said that would be his preferred approach.

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

Before Daniels testified on Friday, Furman denied Avenatti's objection to the prosecutors' alleged failure to pass on any evidence.

Avenatti used the same objection to win a lawsuit in August last year in California, where he faced separate fraud changes, but Furman said it had no bearing on the Daniels case.

"This is a red herring, a distraction, smoke and mirrors," Furman said, also outside the presence of juries.

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Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Edited by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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