WASHINGTON (CN) - The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee referred Michael Avenatti to the Justice Department for criminal investigation on Thursday, saying the lawyer and a woman he represented misled the committee during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
Avenatti's client, Julie Swetnick, submitted a declaration to the Judiciary Committee last month stating she was aware that Kavanaugh helped spike punch and drug women at high school parties in the 1980s. Swetnick claimed Kavanaugh and others at the parties did this so they could "gang rape" the women in side rooms, and that she had seen Kavanaugh waiting in line outside of these rooms at parties she attended.
Swetnick came forward after Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court brought allegations of sexual misconduct against him by two other women.
In his letter today, however, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told the Justice Department that committee investigators were unable to find any information backing up Swetnick and Avenatti's claims. He said they instead turned up evidence that Swetnick did not even known Kavanaugh.
"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," wrote Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "These laws exist to ensure that there are."
Grassley's letter begins by noting that Swetnick's claims changed significantly between the day Avenatti posted her declaration to Twitter and when she appeared on NBC News for an interview. Whereas Swetnick originally cast Kavanaugh as being deeply involved in the efforts to spike drinks with alcohol and drugs at the parties, she told NBC News on Oct. 1 that she merely saw him handing out Solo cups to girls.
She also said in the interview the lines of boys waiting to have their "turn" with an incapacitated girl in a side room at the parties were more accurately described as huddles of boys standing near doorways.
The letter also notes Swetnick has a history of filing frivolous lawsuits and that people who knew Kavanaugh in high school have come forward to say they were not aware of any such behavior at their parties and that they never knew Swetnick, who attended a different school in the same Maryland county.
Grassley said the committee spoke with 10 people who knew Swetnick directly and that the interviews uncovered other reasons to doubt her credibility. In one declaration, a man who dated Swetnick told the committee she "harassed and stalked" him after they broke up, threatening him to the point that he filed a restraining order against her.
The letter also does not spare Avenatti, who is an early contender for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. According to the letter, actor Patrick Dempsey sued Avenatti in 2013, claiming the lawyer misled him about a coffee company the two formed together. A former partner at Avenatti's law firm also resigned after claiming the firm owed him millions of dollars and Avenatti's ex-wife said in court documents during their divorce that Avenatti hid income from her.
In an email Thursday, Avenatti said Grassley "made a major mistake" by submitting the referral to the Justice Department.
"It is ironic that Senator Grassley now is interested in investigations," Avenatti posted on Twitter. "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."