Chuck Grassley refers Avenatti, Swetnick to DOJ for criminal investigation

Democrats wanted an FBI investigation but I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Today Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced that he has referred Julie Swetnick and her attorney Michael Avenatti to the DOJ and the FBI for criminal investigation. Here’s a portion of the statement on the committee’s website [emphasis in original]:

While the Committee was in the middle of its extensive investigation of the late-breaking sexual-assault allegations made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Avenatti publicized his client’s allegations of drug- and alcohol-fueled gang rapes in the 1980s. The obvious, subsequent contradictions along with the suspicious timing of the allegations necessitate a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

“When a well-meaning citizen comes forward with information relevant to the committee’s work, I take it seriously. It takes courage to come forward, especially with allegations of sexual misconduct or personal trauma. I’m grateful for those who find that courage,” Grassley said. “But in the heat of partisan moments, some do try to knowingly mislead the committee. That’s unfair to my colleagues, the nominees and others providing information who are seeking the truth. It stifles our ability to work on legitimate lines of inquiry. It also wastes time and resources for destructive reasons. Thankfully, the law prohibits such false statements to Congress and obstruction of congressional committee investigations. 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.”

Grassley referred Swetnick and Avenatti for investigation in a letter sent today to the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The letter notes potential violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1001 and 1505, which respectively define the federal criminal offenses of conspiracy, false statements and obstruction of Congress. The referral seeks further investigation only, and is not intended to be an allegation of a crime.

This isn’t the first such referral that Grassley has made. In September he made a similar referral about an allegation of sexual assault which was sent to Senator Whitehouse and subsequently recanted. But obviously, Michael Avenatti is a much more public figure who is constantly appearing on television and tweeting his opinions to a large audience. And, in the midst of writing this here’s Avenatti’s response on Twitter:

As always, Avenatti is responding with bravado. What’s new? But there’s no reason to think this is good news for him or his client. Thus far, Avenatti and Swetnick offered a shifting, unverified story and several witnesses have come forward to suggest she’s lying. In fact, that’s a major thrust of Grassley’s letter of referral.

In sum, the sworn statement Mr. Avenatti submitted to the Committee on behalf of Ms. Swetnick claimed she had “personal knowledge” that Judge Kavanaugh spiked punch with drugs and alcohol at house parties in 1981-83 in order to cause girls to become incapacitated so that lines of boys would systematically sexually assault them. She later contradicted each of those claims in her interview with NBC…

After the media hubbub about Ms. Swetnick’s contradictory interview and the lack of any corroboration for her claims, Mr. Avenatti belatedly produced a vague and anonymous declaration he claimed supported her allegations. Mr. Avenatti did not provide the identity of this supposed declarant to the Committee, nor did he make him or her available for an interview with Committee staff. It does not appear any media outlet has been able report any interview with the purported declarant or validate anything in the anonymous declaration. Indeed, it is unclear who actually wrote the anonymous declaration. Mr. Avenatti also apparently has a history of claiming to have anonymous clients who never materialize in any
verifiable form.

There’s a lot more about problems with Swetnick’s credibility. That section of the letter concludes:

In short, it appears Ms. Swetnick has a substantial history of credibility issues. When viewed in light of the fact there is no credible evidence she ever knew Judge Kavanaugh, and the fact she has contradicted key aspects of her allegations against him, this lends credence to the likelihood that she made materially false statements to the Committee in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Those statements obstructed the Judiciary Committee’s efforts to investigate allegations against Judge Kavanaugh and the processing of his nomination, potentially in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505. Given Mr. Avenatti’s role in this with Ms. Swetnick, along with Mr. Avenatti’s own substantial credibility issues (discussed next), there may have been a conspiracy to violate these laws, in potential violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

I have no reason to believe that Avenatti has any significant way to respond to these claims. If he did he would have done so when it mattered. Still, calling for an investigation seems likely to keep this issue in the news for several more weeks or months. I can’t imagine that Justice Kavanaugh is happy about that. That said, Grassley has a point. If uncorroborated stories like this are given a pass, we’re all but guaranteed to see a lot more of them during the next confirmation hearing.