Early in Michael Avenatti’s cross-examination of his former client Stormy Daniels on Friday, he asked whether, a few years earlier, a “dark entity” had entered her home through a “portal.”
“That’s what I was told by a medium,” Ms. Daniels replied.
The unusual exchange came during a second day of testimony by Ms. Daniels at Mr. Avenatti’s trial in federal court in Manhattan on charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Mr. Avenatti, who is representing himself, is accused of stealing about $300,000 in payments meant for Ms. Daniels by using a fake letter to dupe her literary agent.
Ms. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, had spent hours the day before being questioned by a prosecutor about her communications several years ago with Mr. Avenatti when he was her lawyer in a lawsuit against then-President Donald J. Trump.
Shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president, Ms. Daniels says, he used a $130,000 payment and a nondisclosure agreement to try to stop her from talking about what she claims was a sexual encounter she had with him years earlier. Mr. Trump has denied her claim.
The lawsuit Mr. Avenatti filed on her behalf in early 2018 said the nondisclosure agreement had no force because Mr. Trump had not signed it. During that time, Mr. Avenatti also helped Ms. Daniels secure a contract for a book with St. Martin’s Press.
In her testimony on Thursday, Ms. Daniels said Mr. Avenatti had repeatedly lied to her, even as she asked for his help in getting the publisher to hand over what she believed were missing payments. Just before the proceedings ended for the day, Mr. Avenatti began cross-examining her, a dramatic moment in which the two former allies came face to face across a courtroom.
Mr. Avenatti briefly alluded to Ms. Daniels’s belief in the occult, asking about her claim that she can see, and speak to, dead people.
Ms. Daniels acknowledged having said as much, adding that she was part of a project called “Spooky Babes” that focused on paranormal activity.
Continuing his cross-examination on Friday, Mr. Avenatti quickly returned to the topic, asking Ms. Daniels about “unexplainable and frightening experiences” in her New Orleans home — including “poltergeist” phenomena, “shadow figures,” and sounds and voices invading her life like a “predatory animal” — that had been cited on the “Spooky Babes” website.
Ms. Daniels acknowledged saying that a friend had physically attacked her after the “dark entity” entered her home, and that she had seen in her kitchen an image of a woman crying over a dead child.
Mr. Avenatti revisited the notion that Ms. Daniels had the ability to communicate with people who had died.
“How do you speak with the dead?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Ms. Daniels replied. “It just happens sometimes.”
Over the past few days, Mr. Avenatti has told Judge Jesse M. Furman, who is overseeing the trial, that his defense would be based on his belief that a contract he had with Ms. Daniels entitled him to a “reasonable percentage” of the $800,000 St. Martin’s had said it would pay her.
That percentage was “to be agreed upon between clients and attorney,” according to contract language cited during the trial. Ms. Daniels has testified that she never agreed that Mr. Avenatti would get any of the book’s proceeds.
Mr. Avenatti’s cross-examination of Ms. Daniels appeared designed to portray her as an unreliable witness who embraced unorthodox beliefs and sometimes took liberties with the truth.
At one point, for instance, Mr. Avenatti asked Ms. Daniels about a letter she had signed in January 2018, two months before she filed the suit detailing what she called her “relationship and encounters” with Mr. Trump and the payment she said was intended to keep her quiet.
Mr. Avenatti quoted from the letter, which he said labeled assertions that Ms. Daniels had a romantic relationship with Mr. Trump and received “hush money” from him as “absolutely false.”
From the witness stand, Ms. Daniels countered that her relationship with Mr. Trump had not been “romantic” and that the $130,000 she had received came not from him but from his lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.
The exchanges between Mr. Avenatti and Ms. Daniels, perhaps because of their previously close relationship, sometimes resembled a back-and-forth between two people rehashing old grievances.
When Mr. Avenatti asked Ms. Daniels whether she had described him to government investigators as “nice and respectful,” she responded: “You lied to me — that’s not respectful.”
Then she said, “I was wrong,” before finally answering the question in the affirmative.
A moment later, Mr. Avenatti asked whether Ms. Daniels had told government investigators that he had become so controlling while representing her that he had shown up at a photo shoot she was doing for Vogue and wound up being featured alongside her in the resulting images.
“Did I finagle my way into your Vogue photo shoot?” Mr. Avenatti asked.
“You appeared at my Vogue photo shoot and were in the photos with me,” Ms. Daniels replied. “I don’t know how it came to pass.”