On Sunday evening, just as The New Yorker revealed the identity of a second woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, attorney Michael Avenatti announced that he, too, had “credible information” about Kavanaugh and his high-school friend Mark Judge.
The media-savvy lawyer told The Daily Beast on Monday that his client would be coming forward “in the next 48 hours” with details and accusations that mirrored those already leveled and could, in his estimation, torpedo Kavanaugh’s confirmation—all of which would seem helpful for Democrats as they make the case that Kavanaugh is morally unfit to sit on the Supreme Court.
And yet, Avenatti’s late appearance in this heated confirmation fight has some in the party fearful that he will end up doing more harm than good—in particular, giving Republicans ammunition to condemn and dismiss the allegations against Kavanaugh as a political hit job.
“Mr. Avenatti has a tendency to sensationalize and make his various crusades more about himself than about getting at the truth,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “This moment calls for the exact opposite.”
Avenatti, who has flirted with a 2020 presidential bid, has so far revealed only some information about the allegations he is set to bring forward. He has yet to provide evidence or identify the woman he is representing, only teasing that he may do so via a television interview before Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford—who has accused the federal judge of sexual assault—appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Democratic senators stopped short of criticizing Avenatti, but appeared to be low on patience with his tactic of dribbling out information before a dramatic big reveal, fearful that it undermined the seriousness of the issue of sexual assault.
“If Michael Avenatti has any evidence, he should come forward promptly. If he has a client who has relevant information, I welcome hearing from him,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a member of the judiciary committee, said in an interview. “If there are additional allegations to come forward, this would absolutely be the time because I don’t see us pursuing this matter much more than the next week or two at most.”
Coons suggested Avenatti should have followed in the footsteps of Ford, who “attempted to contact news outlets and the committee before Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed as being the nominee.” The senator added that her claims are “credible” because she was “trying to balance a deep yearning to remain confidential… while also wanting to make sure that the general public knew her allegations.” But Avenatti is thus far dragging his feet, according to committee aides and senators who say he has yet to provide the committee with evidence or any other information. As a result, some on their side of the aisle are skeptical of the claims.
“I believe there is a decent chance the person he reps may have a real allegation,” said another Democratic source working on the confirmation proceedings. “But he undercut it. If he had vetted it through a media outlet and had journalists represent it in a well-reported way or have the committee introduce it, it would have been better.”
Avenatti showed little concern that his involvement might complicate matters for Democrats as they press the case against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Instead, in a brief phone interview, he ridiculed his detractors for not appreciating the stakes of the confirmation battle ahead of them.
“I think that is ridiculous and I think it is another example of certain Democrats being weak-kneed and not up for the fight,” he told The Daily Beast. “If the heat is too hot in the kitchen they need to just get out.”
Avenatti is a reviled figure among Republicans. And his involvement in the Kavanaugh fight quickly gave them talking points after the New Yorker story was published. Leah Vukmir, the Republican running against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), pointed to Avenatti as evidence that the allegations writ large were politically motivated.
“Michael Avenatti, presidential aspirant of Stormy Daniels fame, has decided he also wants to join the Democrat delay circus and what has become clear is that the Far Left is engaged in an all-out, no-holds-barred, last-minute character assassination, rather than responsibly vetting and filling a seat on the Supreme Court,” Vukmir said in a statement.
While Democrats were loath to criticize Avenatti on the record—fearful that his bombastic Twitter attacks might be directed their way—privately, aides on Capitol Hill recoiled at the way he had presented his allegations. On Sunday evening, Avenatti took to Twitter to release bits and pieces of his email conversations with Mike Davis, the chief counsel for nominations for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Davis reached out to Avenatti within minutes of his initial tweet, saying the committee wanted to look into the celebrity attorney’s claims and asking him to provide evidence.
“Is this about Avenatti or the women?” said Adam Jentleson, a former top aide to ex-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). “Hopefully it’s about raising up the voices of women and I guess we’ll find out in the next few days.”
Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the GOP side of the judiciary committee, said the panel had not received anything from Avenatti since he publicly released his email correspondence with Davis.
“I would check his Twitter,” Foy quipped when asked if they had had any additional interactions with Avenatti. “I don’t think that we have, but where we left it was we said, send us evidence of whatever you or, if you have a client, what it is they are alleging.”
In one of his emails to Davis, Avenatti said he has “significant evidence” that Kavanaugh and Judge targeted women “with alcohol/drugs in order to allow a ‘train’ of men to subsequently gang rape them.”
Asked about the allegations in an interview with Fox News on Monday night, Kavanaugh said “that’s totally false and outrageous. I’ve never done any such thing, known about any such thing.”
Avenatti’s claims come at an incredibly tense moment in the Kavanaugh deliberations. The newest revelation from Deborah Ramirez—who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were freshmen at Yale—didn’t appear to change the dynamic on Capitol Hill. If anything, it seemed to embolden Republican leaders, who pledged on Monday to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid what they view as a coordinated effort to smear and defame the nominee.
“Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations,” a defiant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Monday. He vowed that Kavanaugh would get a vote on the Senate floor.
Other Republicans pounced on reporting from The New York Times that appeared to undercut Ramirez’s claims. The Times reported that it “could find no one with firsthand knowledge” of Ramirez’s allegation after interviewing “several dozen people,” adding that Ramirez herself called ex-classmates and told them she was not “certain” that Kavanaugh was the individual who exposed himself to her.
“Frankly, I know Judge Kavanaugh very well. I believe him,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told reporters, calling Ramirez’s allegation “phony.”
At the same time, though, other Kavanaugh allies on Capitol Hill softened their expectations on Monday—a clear shift from the near-uniform confidence expressed just a week ago, and an indication that Kavanaugh’s fate will rest heavily on his and Ford’s testimonies before the judiciary committee on Thursday.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who shepherded Kavanaugh through the confirmation process, appeared to cast doubt on his prospects. “Well, I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see,” he told The Daily Beast when asked if he still believes Kavanaugh will be confirmed.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the GOP leadership, added: “Let’s see what everybody has to say this week.”