Over the past year, Michael Cohen has become infamous as President Donald Trump’s lawyer and “fixer,” with his regular attempts to bury would-be sex scandals under a torrent of cash and non-disclosure agreements becoming regular features of the political news cycle. But Cohen hasn’t been able to cover up Trump’s alleged indiscretions all by himself. There was always a third man involved. His name is Keith Davidson.
Davidson, a solo practitioner with a small office in Los Angeles, became the lawyer for two different women who say they had affairs with Donald Trump: Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. He also represented Shera Bechard, a Playboy playmate who Elliott Broidy, top Trump fundraiser, says he impregnated.
Davidson is also well-known as a guy who can turn celebrity sex tapes into cash for his clients. He maintains close relationships with gossip websites like TMZ. Michael Cohen’s lawyer, Jonathon Schwartz, calls Davidson’s specialty “legal extortion.” Not everyone agrees; Davidson currently faces three separate lawsuits accusing him of illegal extortion and other misdeeds. Davidson denies all of the charges and is contesting them in court.
Was Trump simply another mark for Davidson? That’s what Cohen would like you to believe. But the relationship between Cohen and Davidson has not always been so adversarial.
According to Davidson, his representation of Stormy Daniels began after Cohen asked him to “look into” Daniels, who was talking to media outlets about her alleged affair with Trump.
[Davidson] 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.
The circumstances of Davidson’s representation of Daniels raises serious questions about the nature of his relationship with Cohen. Why would Cohen tip off a man widely known as a shakedown artist to a woman who was shopping a salacious story about his client?
Daniels is now suing Davidson, claiming that he breached his fiduciary duty to her by secretly colluding with Cohen and Donald Trump. Davidson, in turn, has countersued, arguing that Daniels attorney, Michael Avenatti, defamed him in a tweet.
One thing Cohen had in Davidson, according to the California state bar, is someone with a malleable view of his ethical responsibilities as a lawyer. His law license has been suspended twice in the last 10 years for breaching his duty to his clients.
But there are far more sinister stories about Davidson tucked away in obscure court filings and police reports. While these documents describe allegations and not proven facts — Davidson denies everything — they present a remarkably consistent picture of a man who appears to have no moral, ethical, or legal constraints on his behavior.
Davidson did not respond to questions sent to him by ThinkProgress through his spokesperson.
Keith Davidson and the “Fight of the Century”
In May 2014, Gabriel Rueda — an actor and waiter — introduced Leslie Moonves, the President of CBS, to Freddie Roach, the trainer of boxer Manny Pacquiao. This introduction, according to both Rueda as well as contemporaneous media reports, was the catalyst for the May 2, 2015 fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., billed at the time as the “Fight of the Century.” Rueda says that he was party to a moneymaking deal. In return for the introduction, Moonves and Roach agreed to pay Rueda a “finders fee” of 2% of the gross proceeds of the event.
The fight was a success and grossed over $430,000,000.
The problems for Rueda started when he tried to collect.
A few weeks after the fight, Rueda said he began receiving contacts from Keith Davidson, who identified himself as a lawyer for Roach and Pacquiao. Davidson, according to Rueda, told him he had 48 hours to accept a $50,000 under-the-table payment and sign a general release for Moonves, CBS, Roach and Pacquiao.
When Rueda balked at the deal, saying it wasn’t the agreement he reached, he says that Davidson began threatening him. Davidson said Rueda would never get a seven-figure finders fee and if he didn’t take a deal he would lose his job as a waiter and “never work as an actor in this town again,” according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Rueda against Davidson and others.
Rueda claims Davidson told him he was dealing with “powerful people who did not care if he got hurt.”
According to Rueda, Davidson then called his employer and accused him of trying to blackmail Moonves. Rueda was told by his employer that he would be fired if he didn’t resolve the issue because Mooves was an important customer. When Rueda confronted Davidson about his conduct, he says Davidson repeated his threats and again demanded he accept the $50,000 settlement offer.
While Rueda never spoke to Davidson again, Rueda claims he was subsequently the target of continual threats.
Rueda later filed a police report about these threats. His lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss and is ongoing.
Keith Davidson and the Hulkster
A sex tape featuring Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, brought down the news website Gawker. But how did the tape get to Gawker? Hogan’s attorney, David Houston, says Keith Davidson was responsible.
According to a declaration filed by Houston in the Rueda case, Davidson demanded $1 million from Hogan. If he didn’t pay up, Davidson threatened to release a sex tape featuring Hogan and the wife of a close friend, radio host Todd Alan Clem — who is perhaps better known under his professional moniker “Bubba The Love Sponge.” The excerpt of the tape released to Gawker, Houston said, was described by Davidson as a warning shot.
Houston reported Davidson’s actions to the FBI. This prompted the FBI to set up a sting operation, which occurred on December 14, 2012 in Clearwater, Florida. During the sting, Davidson handed Houston what he represented as copies of the Hogan sex tape. Houston, following the instructions of the FBI, gave Davidson a check for $150,000 and talked about a future payment of $150,000.
The FBI, according to Houston, then burst into the room with guns drawn and arrested Davidson and a companion. Davidson, however, has denied that he was ever arrested and has sued Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniel’s current attorney, for tweeting that he had.
Houston’s account is largely supported by an investigation by the Tampa Bay Police Department, which investigated Davidson’s activities and were provided transcripts of Houston’s interactions with Davidson, including the sting operation.
The Tampa police concluded that Davidson “engaged in the extortion of Terry Bollea [Hulk Hogan].”
Davidson hired Brian Albritton, a well-connected lawyer who was formerly the United States Attorney for the area that includes Tampa, to represent him. Albritton prepared a 58-slide presentation arguing against the prosecution of Davidson, arguing that the trial would be come a publicity vehicle for Hogan. Albritton argued that a trial involving a Hogan sex tape and an individual named “Bubba the Love Sponge” would promote “disrespect for federal law enforcement.”
Despite the conclusions of the Tampa police, the State’s Attorney in Florida declined to prosecute and Davidson was never charged.
Keith Davidson and the shark
Davidson has also been accused of extortion by Robert Herjavec, a Croatian-born businessman and investor best known for his appearances on the ABC show Shark Tank. Herjavec, in a lawsuit, accuses Davidson of conspiring with a former girlfriend, Danielle Vasinova, to blackmail him for $20 million.
Davidson, according to Herjavec’s complaint, first threatened to claim Herjavec had given Vasinova genital herpes. Later, they threatened to accuse Herjavec of sexual assault. Herjavec says both allegations are false.
Herjavec’s litigation against Vasinova is ongoing.
Davidson and the outing of Charlie Sheen
According to an extensive profile by The Smoking Gun, Davidson has become “the attorney to hire if you are seeking to monetize a celebrity sex tape or compromising information about public figures like Trump, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, and Kanye West.”
In fact, it was with Sheen that Davidson had his most notable success in this particular arena.
Davidson secured a $2 million settlement on behalf of Kira Montgomery, one of Sheen’s sexual partners, in exchange for Montgomery agreeing to not disclose that Sheen was HIV positive. Davidson was later forced to return a portion of his $800,000 fee after a new lawyer for Montgomery accused him of mismanaging the proceeds.
Nevertheless, according to The Smoking Gun, “Sheen became an annuity of sorts for Davidson, who represented a series of clients who pursued successful legal claims against the performer.” Allegations against Sheen were lucrative because of his desire to conceal his HIV positive status and sexual orientation.
In the declaration filed in the Rueda case, Houston, the attorney for Hulk Hogan, said that Davidson told him “most of his targets were private citizens, not celebrities, and that they paid hefty fees for their sex tapes because they were gay but ‘in the closet.'”
The Smoking Gun profile paints an unsavory image of Davidson. But perhaps the most remarkable anecdote was Davidson’s effort to intimidate the reporter who wrote the article.
On March 18, Davidson arrived at 9:30 AM for a meeting at the same Greenwich Village restaurant where he had previously been interviewed. Within minutes of sitting down, the grim-faced attorney said, “Bill, while you’ve been investigating me, I’ve been investigating you.”
He then reached into his bag and retrieved a file folder, from which he removed a two-page document. Davidson explained that the memo he was about to hand over was prepared by an unnamed private investigator with whom he often works.
The document–which had several redactions at the top of its opening page–made a series of stunning claims that were purportedly backed up by intelligence reports. The Smoking Gun and this reporter, the memo stated, were connected to an international narcotics distribution ring overseen by an organized crime family in Italy. Aiding in these illicit endeavors, the memo alleged, was an attorney at the New York law firm which incorporated The Smoking Gun’s parent company. The web site was some kind of an elaborate front operation, according to the document Davidson eventually returned to his manila folder.
Told by the reporter that the memo’s claims were ludicrous, Davidson seemed unconvinced. All pursed lips and plaintive stares, the attorney acted pained that he had to break it to the reporter that others knew about the journalist’s criminal secret.
After Davidson’s visit, The Smoking Gun was contacted by various individuals claiming to have damaging information about the website. The Smoking Gun ignored all of this and published their story. Davidson did not respond to a request for comment from ThinkProgress.
Where does Keith Davidson go from here? According to Michael Avenatti, Davidson’s home and office were raided by the FBI the same day as Cohen.
Why is Davidson refusing to give my client her entire file & all texts between him & Cohen after March 2 that pertain to her? Because he was plotting against her & he is trying to hide it. Did he destroy them before the FBI raided his ofc & home the same day as Cohen? #Basta
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) June 8, 2018
Davidson is also suing Cohen, alleging he illegally recorded their phone conversations.
All of this means that if Davidson, Cohen, and Trump have any more secrets between them, it is increasingly likely that these will soon be exposed.
UPDATE (6/14): After this article’s publication, Keith Davidson spokesman Dave Wedge sent the following statement:
Attorney Davidson has filed his response to the frivolous lawsuit filed by Mr. Avenatti, who continues to recklessly use Twitter and the media to launch defamatory charges against Attorney Davidson. He makes these charges knowing full well that Attorney Davidson has always been a zealous advocate for the best interests of his clients. That’s why Mr. Davidson has filed a defamation suit against Mr. Avenatti and looks forward to seeing him in court on these matters.
Attorney Davidson has never been the subject of a raid in connection with the Michael Cohen probe. And, he was neither arrested nor charged in the Hulk Hogan case. Any insinuations to the contrary are false and defamatory.
Attorney Davidson has had an extremely active practice in Los Angeles for more than 18 years. He has had tremendous success as a trial attorney and negotiator. He regularly takes on – and is successful – with cases that other attorneys don’t take. Keith isn’t afraid to take on the wealthy and powerful in order to seek justice for his clients. Due to the constraints of attorney-client privilege, as well as ongoing legal proceedings, Attorney Davidson is prohibited from discussing these specific matters publicly. He does, however, dispute many of the descriptions of these situations by media and others, and strenuously denies any insinuations of unethical or inappropriate behavior. In these matters, and in all of his cases, Attorney Davidson has always advocated strongly for his clients’ best interests.