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Grassley refers Avenatti and Swetnick to Justice for a criminal probe

Michael Avenatti speaks Oct. 10 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday referred lawyer Michael Avenatti and Julie Swetnick — one of the women who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh of misconduct — to the Department of Justice for a criminal probe, alleging that they made “materially false” statements to Grassley’s committee as it investigated the allegations.

Swetnick said in a September affidavit that Kavanaugh attended a 1982 house party during which she says she was gang-raped — an accusation Kavanaugh vehemently denied and said was “from the Twilight Zone.” Grassley said he is asking the Justice Department to look into whether Swetnick and Avenatti potentially conspired to give materially false statements to Congress and obstruct a congressional investigation.

“When charlatans make false claims to the committee — claims that may earn them short-term media exposure and financial gain, but which hinder the committee’s ability to do its job — there should be consequences,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director Christopher A. Wray. “These laws exist to ensure there are.”

Julie Swetnick, who spoke in a Sept. 26 interview, has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. (Video: "The Circus"/Showtime)

The Justice Department declined to comment. 

The committee, in a news release, said the “obvious, subsequent contradictions” from Avenatti, as well as the “suspicious timing of the allegations,” warrant a federal investigation. The panel made no referral regarding allegations against Kavanaugh from Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, two other women who accused him of sexual misconduct during high school and college years. Kavanaugh also denied their allegations.

Committee officials had no comment on why they are pursuing a criminal referral against Swetnick and not the other accusers. Kavanaugh, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, also declined to comment. 

A bitterly divided Senate narrowly confirmed Kavanaugh to the court this month after a contentious confirmation process and a brief FBI investigation into the allegations.

In a separate statement, Grassley also said that knowingly misleading congressional investigators is “unfair to my colleagues, the nominees” and other witnesses as a waste of resources for “destructive reasons.”

Avenatti responded to the news of the criminal referral on Twitter, calling it “ironic” that Grassley is “now interested in investigations.” He appeared to be speaking on behalf of himself and Swetnick.

“He didn’t care when it came to putting a man on the SCOTUS for life,” he tweeted, referring to the Supreme Court. “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.”

Later, Avenatti argued that the referral was good for him and Swetnick because it could bring to light more details about Kavanaugh’s past conduct. He challenged Grassley to launch the investigation “tonight.” 

“I will make my client available for a sworn interview and you can make Judge Kavanaugh available for a sworn interview,” Avenatti tweeted Thursday evening. “We also have 9 other witnesses we want interviewed and specific documents we want requested. Let’s go.”

In the 12-page letter to the Justice Department and FBI, Grassley raised detailed credibility concerns against Avenatti and Swetnick. 

When it came to Swetnick, Grassley pointed to her interview with NBC News during which she backtracked on several of the claims she had made in her affidavit. The Iowa Republican noted that several Kavanaugh confidantes — as well as the now-justice himself — said in sworn statements to the committee that they did not know who she was.

Grassley also cited Swetnick’s past legal issues, including a restraining order filed by a former boyfriend and lawsuits that Grassley said appear to show a history of false claims made by Swetnick. 

As for Avenatti, Grassley said the lawyer has a history of business partners — including the actor Patrick Dempsey — who have accused him of deception. 

“There seem to be numerous additional press reports that cast doubt on Mr. Avenatti’s credibility,” Grassley wrote. “However, having reviewed several already, committee investigators determined that delving into additional ones would be beating a dead horse.”

Avenatti rose to national fame while representing the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who has sued to nullify a 2016 nondisclosure agreement that prevents her from talking about her alleged affair with President Trump a dozen years ago.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had sought to discredit Swetnick during Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, taking the unprecedented step of releasing a statement that described her purported sexual preferences in explicit detail. 

The statement came from a Democratic former congressional candidate and television meteorologist who said he and Swetnick had a brief relationship in 1993, and was circulated to hundreds of journalists Oct. 2. Avenatti called it “bogus and outrageous,” and urged the FBI to interview Swetnick and the man to assess their truthfulness.

Matt Zapotosky and Robert Barnes contributed to this report.