The attorney who represented a porn star and Playboy model in deals that buried their allegations of sexual encounters with Donald Trump in exchange for six-figure payouts said the “whole truth” about the now-public scandal has not been told.
In exclusive interviews with CNN, attorney Keith M. Davidson said he believes his clients Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were telling the truth about their relationships with Trump, but that details surrounding their deals and his role in negotiating them have not fully been disclosed.
Davidson said he was contacted in recent weeks by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who encouraged him to go out and reveal what he knew about his clients and their agreements. He said Cohen argued that the women had waived attorney-client privilege by going public with their stories.
“He suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts,” Davidson said.
Trump has denied relationships with both Daniels and McDougal.
Davidson said he consulted with an ethics attorney who disagreed with Cohen’s assessment. As a result, he said he still feels ethically bound not to disclose details about his conversations with Daniels and McDougal, or provide information about his work on their behalf. But he defended himself against allegations leveled by his former clients that he didn’t look out for their best interests. McDougal even accused him in court documents of colluding with Trump’s associates while pretending to represent her.
“I read each of the ladies’ complaints and pleadings. …The recitation of the facts that are contained within those pleadings I do not agree with, and I look forward to an opportunity in an appropriate forum to discuss them,” Davidson said.
But because legal ethics bar him from discussing their cases, “I feel like I’m fighting with one hand tied behind my back,” he added.
Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ current attorney, said: “Mr. Davidson should not be making any comment to the press relating to the matter, or a client that has terminated him, such as Ms. Clifford. With that said, obviously all of the facts have yet to be disclosed, as we have been saying for weeks now.”
Davidson spoke broadly about his law practice, which he said was important context for understanding how he came to represent McDougal and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. And he also detailed several exchanges he had with Cohen both before and after the election.
In one of the more revealing comments, Davidson acknowledged reaching out to Cohen during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign to let him know that he had just negotiated a deal with a powerful media company and McDougal that effectively kept her allegations of an affair with Trump out of public view.
He did so even though neither Cohen nor Trump were official parties to the case. He deemed the call “a professional courtesy.”
He denied that there was anything improper about the call. A few weeks after that call, Davidson said, Cohen called him saying he was hearing some rumblings that Daniels was trying to resurface allegations that she’d had sex with Trump in 2006. Cohen asked Davidson, who he knew had represented Daniels years earlier, to see if he could “find out what’s going on,” Davidson said. Soon after, Davidson brokered a deal with Cohen in which Daniels was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her alleged tryst with Trump.
In the wide-ranging interviews with CNN, Davidson, who practices law in Beverly Hills, California, described himself as a blue-collar kid from Massachusetts, the son of a firefighter. As a young lawyer, he said he hoped to use what he’d learned in law school to defend the underdog.
After a brief stint in criminal court in which he said he won an acquittal for a client in a murder case early in his career, Davidson transitioned into civil law. For a time in the early 2000s, he represented boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao.
He also began accumulating clients in the entertainment industry, including the adult entertainment industry.
He said he does not recall how that connection was first forged, but he at some point realized he had developed a reputation as a go-to guy for certain types of cases.
In 2008, he represented a woman who sold a sex video featuring herself and Verne Troyer, the actor who played “Mini Me” in the Austin Powers series.
In 2010, he was sued in civil court for trying to broker the sale of an X-rated video of MTV personality Tila Tequila. The case was settled and Davidson denied any wrongdoing.
In 2012, he was detained by FBI agents in a sting related to yet another racy video, this one featuring pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Davidson was not arrested or charged in the matter and said he’s confident he’ll be vindicated in an ongoing civil proceeding.
He said the handful of cases that have “percolated to the surface,” including those involving Daniels and McDougal, are the exception, not the rule.
He prefers to work “under the radar” and keep his clients – and himself – out of the news. Among his best outcomes, Davidson said, are cases no one’s ever heard of, because he successfully kept them under wraps.
“I’m sort of in the secret business,” the 47-year-old lawyer said.
Davidson was given a 90-day suspension by the State Bar of California in 2010 for four counts of misconduct in three different cases.
He acknowledged some shortcomings in his practice at that time.
“I was spread a little too thin,” he said.
The following year he represented Daniels in her effort to have a story about her having sex with Trump removed from a gossip website called TheDirty.com. That was the first time he spoke with Cohen, he said. The conversation did not begin well, he recalled.
There was a lot of “chest pounding” and “bluster,” Davidson said.
“We’ll chase you to the ends of the earth,” he quoted Cohen as saying, “This is not a true story … we’re gonna come and get you.”
Davidson said that when he made it clear that Daniels wanted the story removed, too, and they were on the same side, Cohen’s demeanor changed dramatically.
Five years later, Davidson said, a client with ties to the adult entertainment world introduced him to McDougal.
Davidson declined to discuss his conversations or interactions with McDougal because of attorney-client privilege. But she has since publicly stated that he negotiated a settlement on her behalf with American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer. She was paid $150,000 for the rights to her story, which the tabloid did not publish. The agreement also provided for other perks, such as her appearance on magazine covers and an opportunity to write columns.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, she said she initially considered the deal “a win-win” because she didn’t want her story to go public and wanted to resurrect her career. But she has since filed a lawsuit seeking to be freed from the agreement and accused Davidson of “working closely with representatives for Mr. Trump while pretending to advocate on her behalf.”
Davidson denied those allegations. He said his contact with Cohen about McDougal occurred after her deal had been signed.
“A conspiracy would have to involve an act that would take place before – and that simply wasn’t the case,” he said.
He also refuted allegations Daniels made in a “60 Minutes” interview, suggesting that he pressured her to sign letters denying her alleged affair after news of the deal became public.
“I don’t believe that the facts … in the interview were a fair and accurate representation of my representation of her at the time,” he said.
He said he represented McDougal and Daniels “zealously” in pursuit of “their stated goals at the time.”
Several weeks after Davidson informed Cohen of McDougal’s agreement, he said Cohen called him to say he’d heard Daniels was shopping around her story about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Davidson agreed to look into the matter and ended up representing Daniels. He negotiated the nondisclosure agreement. He said Cohen told him he was paying the $130,000 settlement from his own pocket. Cohen, who declined comment for this article, has said that Trump was unaware of the deal.
Daniels’ deal, like McDougal’s, was cut as Election Day loomed.
Before signing the agreement with Cohen, Daniels also tried to sell her story to Slate.com, said the news website’s editor, Jacob Weisberg. Weisberg told CNN he informed Daniels that Slate did not pay for stories “as a matter of principle.” He said Daniels told him she was also pursuing a deal with Trump, though she feared he would “stiff her” if he lost the election, as most polls predicted he would.
Davidson declined to say whether his clients were pressing him to secure deals for them prior to the election. Nor would he comment on the impact a Trump loss may have on the value of any such deal.
“What I can say is that timing is everything,” Davidson said.