Less than an hour before Donald Trump was to attend a bilateral meeting with the Japanese prime minister in New York on Wednesday afternoon, he took to Twitter to rage about the man one of his favorite Fox News hosts dubbed the “creepy porn lawyer.”
“Avenatti is a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump posted to Twitter, in response to Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti. “He is just looking for attention and doesn’t want people to look at his past record and relationships - a total low-life!”
It was the first time that the president had publicly gone after Avenatti, whom he has chosen to bash only privately as a “total loser” and wannabe bigshot, according to two sources close to the president. And it was the surest sign to date that the news cycle has left him and his team rattled.
Hours earlier, Avenatti had unveiled his latest client, Julie Swetnick, who swore in a statement that embattled Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, was “present” during an alleged gang rape during his high school years. Kavanaugh, through the White House, called it Twilight Zone material. But within the larger Trumpworld, the news sparked yet another plunge into full-blown crisis mode.
On Wednesday, Trump conceded that he may very well change his mind on Kavanaugh’s nomination if he determined that the judge was in fact guilty of sexual assault, though he said that his own history of being accused of such things predisposed him to assume Kavanaugh’s innocence.
“It does impact my opinion because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me,” Trump said.
Asked pointedly whether there could be a development that would make Kavanaugh withdraw, he notably refused to say yes or no. “I won’t get into that game,” Trump told reporters at a rare press conference. “I will only tell you this, this is one of the highest quality people that I’ve met.”
Earlier in the day, the White House had convened yet another conference call with high-profile allies and conservative activists to rally the troops, reiterate Team Trump’s strong public support for Kavanaugh, and accuse Democrats of revelling in McCarthyite attacks. On the call, White House spokeswoman Kerri Kupec and Justin Clark, the head of the Office of Public Liaison, thanked participants for going to bat for Kavanaugh and urged them to keep up the fight.
Kupec also made sure to encourage allies of the White House and Kavanaugh to post tweets affixed with the hashtag, “#IStandWithBrett,” according to a source on the call.
It was a decidedly more defensive posture than the one from days prior.
Going into this past weekend, the Trump White House was sounding self-assured about Kavanaugh’s prospects, with senior aides saying they felt he could weather the allegations and horrifically bad press. Since then, two other female accusers have come forward, and the swagger from Team Trump has been replaced with, at best, a shaken confidence.
Officials inside the White House, as well as outside advisers, told the The Daily Beast that mood has become less bullish. Senior aides fear delivering Trump a major failure and humiliation that he can—and likely will—pin on those around him and squeamish Republican lawmakers. There is palpable fear that the party's base will turn on Republicans should the Kavanaugh nomination fail.
Top donors, meanwhile, have said that they will continue writing checks out of a growing fear that the party could lose the Senate in addition to the House this coming fall. But one major contributor warned that lawmakers had to show them that they had put up a sufficient fight to get Kavanaugh on to the Court or else the checks wouldn't come.
“You’re asking me what donors think? They think he is being railroaded. It is the first time the grassroots and the donors have been aligned in the Trump era,” said one major GOP donor. “I think Kavanaugh has the votes. I think he is going to get confirmed. But if he doesn’t get confirmed and goes down on a vote, I think the message to the donor community is we need to elect more Republicans. That could l supercharge giving, provided they think the party went down fighting.”
At this point, Trump’s team and Kavanaugh’s camp are publicly maintaining calm and privately encouraging allies to do the same. On a Monday conference call with White House surrogates, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, had insisted that the “president and this White House continue to stand strongly behind Judge Kavanaugh,” according to a person on the line. By Wednesday, a senior West Wing official said that the president’s posture remained unchanged.
But aides also acknowledge that Kavanaugh’s prospects were growing more endangered. “Thursday could be a disaster or it could be…a victory, we don’t know,” one aide said, referencing the planned testimony Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford plan to give to the Senate Judiciary Committee. And even conservative activists and operatives squarely in Kavanaugh’s camp now say the odds of his confirmation have fallen significantly.
Ed Rollins, who leads the pro-Trump Great America PAC, put the chances of Kavanaugh making it at a mere “fifty-fifty” in an interview with The Daily Beast earlier this week. “My sense is you reach a point where, how do you prove your innocence?” Rollins said. “Democrats now smell blood, they’re going to go full bore [but] as long as he fights on I’ll support him, and the president will support him.”
Perhaps the greatest indication of how imperiled Kavanaugh may actually be came from Trump himself. Talking to reporters at the United Nations on Wednesday, Trump seemed to begin publicly spinning the fraught situation as a possible miscalculation on Republicans’ part.
“They could have pushed it through two and a half weeks ago and you wouldn’t be talking about it right now, which is frankly what I would have preferred,” he proclaimed.