NEW YORK (AP) — A judge set an April 21 trial date for California attorney Michael Avenatti at a hearing on Tuesday where his lawyer accused prosecutors of railroading him with charges that he ripped off his star client, Stormy Daniels.
Defense attorney Dean Steward told U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts that before a trial can go forward he’ll file a motion accusing the government of conducting a “vindictive prosecution” against Avenatti.
Avenatti “has made some very, very powerful enemies,” including President Donald Trump, Steward said. The lawyer also called Attorney General William Barr a “lap dog” for Trump.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky responded by calling the vindictive prosecution claim “frivolous” and saying it would have “no merit” in court.
After he was indicted in May, Avenatti pleaded not guilty to withholding $300,000 owed for a book deal from the porn actress, who gained fame after she claimed an affair with Trump.
Avenatti lashed out against Trump outside court on Tuesday, telling reporters: “I’m fighting for my liberty. The biggest criminal in America occupies the White House … Welcome to Russia.”
Avenatti also has denied charges in a separate Manhattan case that he tried to extort Nike for $25 million and charges in Los Angeles that he defrauded clients of millions of dollars.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges last year in connection with hush money paid at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign to Daniels and model Karen McDougal, who also claimed to have had an affair with Trump.