Constitutional Freedoms

Grassley Seeks Criminal Charges Against Lawyer Avenatti

Senate Committee on the Judiciary chairman's referral includes woman who made allegations against Justice Kavanaugh

Image Credit: USA Today / Shutterstock

Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) recommended criminal charges Thursday against lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client for making false allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Avenatti (pictured above right) made the allegation last month, in the form of a sworn statement from a Washington woman named Julie Swetnick (above left). It went off like a bomb just before the committee was set to hear testimony from California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford about her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both were high school students.

Swetnick’s accusation alleged far more egregious conduct — that Kavanaugh and his friends in high school drugged vulnerable girls at parties so that they could be raped. She alleged in her statement that she had attended 10 parties in the 1980s in which Kavanaugh was present and where gang rapes took place.

Swetnick offered no corroboration for her allegations and later retracted some of her statements in an interview with NBC News. Kavanaugh vociferously denied the allegations and said he had never met her.

NBC reported that witnesses that Swetnick named either failed to confirm her accusations, could not be found or had died.

“Thankfully, the law prohibits such false statements to Congress and obstruction of congressional committee investigations,” Grassley said in a statement. “For the law to work, we can’t just brush aside potential violations. I don’t take lightly making a referral of this nature, but ignoring this behavior will just invite more of it in the future.”

A defiant Avenatti responded on Twitter.

“It is ironic that Senator Grassley now is interested in investigations,” he wrote. “He didn’t care when it came to putting a man on the SCOTUS for life. We welcome the investigation as now we can finally get to the bottom of Judge Kavanaugh’s lies and conduct. Let the truth be known.”

Avenatti added: “Maybe if Grassley was actually a lawyer that knew something about the law, he would realize what he has done. He just opened up Pandora’s box as it relates to Justice Kavanaugh’s conduct. It is Christmas in October!”

Joseph diGenova, who served as a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in the 1980s, told LifeZette that the Department of Justice rarely follows through on criminal referrals from Congress.

And he expressed doubt considering the department’s leadership, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. DiGenova has been highly critical of both men.

“I have no idea what either one of these unworthy people will do,” he said.

But diGenova said ample evidence exists to support prosecution.

“It was absolutely necessary for the committee to have a criminal referral in this particular case,” he said.

Unsubstantiated allegations in the middle of a confirmation hearing undermine the entire proceedings, diGenova said.

“They can upset the entire country,” he said. “And if those accusations are false, it’s absolutely essential for a deterrent that those actions be prosecuted.”

This is the second criminal referral Grassley has made in connection with the Kavanaugh saga. Last month, he recommended criminal charges against a Rhode Island man who had said “Brett” and “Mark” — whom he indicated he believed were Kavanaugh and his high school friend, Mark Judge — had raped a woman on a boat in 1985.

The man later retracted his allegation.

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DiGenova said Avenatti cannot wash his hands of the situation by arguing that he did not know Swetnick’s claims were false.

“He has a duty to make inquiries of his client to make sure the statements are true,” he said.

While many observers found Ford to be credible, three other people she said attended the party where the alleged assault occurred told Senate investigators that they do not remember it. Supposed witnesses to a third alleged incident, in which a woman accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself at a Yale University dorm party, also said they did not remember it.

The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh on a 50-48 vote that went nearly along party lines.

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