The federal judge overseeing celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti’s prosecution for allegedly stealing a book advance from the porn star Stormy Daniels, his most famous client, balked at his claim that he was charged simply to please President Donald Trump.

Avenatti’s lawyer, Dean Steward, said at a hearing Oct. 8 in Manhattan that he may seek to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it was brought to settle a personal score by the president, just as he has in a related case in which Avenatti is accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike Inc.

Avenatti “made some very powerful enemies,” Steward said, including Attorney General William Barr, whom the lawyer described as “Trump’s lap dog.”

“I’m not going to go head to head with Donald Trump in this case,” U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts responded. “At least I don’t think so.”

Batts also questioned the notion that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan could be involved in such a scheme with Trump.

“This office is not known for being vindictive,” she said.

The judge nevertheless gave Avenatti until Nov. 12 to file a motion challenging the case as a so-called vindictive prosecution and scheduled a trial for April 21.

Avenatti, who briefly weighed a presidential run after gaining fame representing Daniels in litigation against Trump, has said the president pressured the Justice Department to target him to remove a political rival.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net
Peter Jeffrey

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