America's Avenatti moment

Heeeeeeeere's Michael!

Michael Avenatti.
(Image credit: ANDREW HARRER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Attorney Michael Avenatti finally dropped his Brett Kavanaugh bombshell and it's a doozy. His client Julie Swetnick has claimed in a sworn affidavit that she witnessed the future Supreme Court nominee behaving in a sexually aggressive fashion at house parties where women were gang raped. Swetnick claims that she was the victim of such criminal behavior at a party that Kavanaugh attended, too.

It's the most lurid set of allegations against Kavanaugh yet — and a big moment for Avenatti, who clearly aspires to be quite a bit more than the "creepy porn lawyer" of Fox News chyron fame. Avenatti has already parlayed his representation of Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who says she slept with President Trump and then was bought off to keep quiet about it, into semi-serious 2020 presidential chatter.

If Avenatti casts the fatal blow against Kavanaugh, his 2020 buzz could become more than semi-serious. Forget the cross-examination by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and the "I am Spartacus" moment from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Avenatti will have upstaged them all.

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Who knows what will happen to Kavanaugh after the disaster of Thursday's hearing with Christine Blasey Ford. While there is still time for another Supreme Court nominee before the midterm elections, much less the end of this Congress, we could end up in Merrick Garland territory if the Democrats win back the Senate and keep the seat open for the remainder of Trump's term. If so, Avenatti could claim plausibly — if a bit hyperbolically — to be the Democrat to have saved Roe v. Wade.

Avenatti can also argue that he is able to fight Trump on his own terms — and win. That's what Democrats have been looking for since 2016. Avenatti knows how to grab headlines. He is skillful in his use of Twitter. And he isn't afraid.

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In the run-up to Avenatti's publicity tour, Democrats were nervous about his allegations and rumors were swirling that he had been punked. "You know I never have no comment, but I have no comment about Michael Avenatti," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Politico. The Daily Beast quoted a Democratic Senate aide as saying Avenatti has a "tendency to sensationalize and make his various crusades more about himself than about getting at the truth."

That is the risk, of course, for Democrats — and Avenatti too. He has a tendency to overpromise and underdeliver. The Swetnick allegations require a level of corroboration that Christine Blasey Ford's do not, because they involve multiple people. Someone had to have seen this. If this story falls apart, Avenatti will validate Trump's "con job" critique.

"We don't know who Michael Avenatti's clients actually are. But if he's overhyped the information he has for attention, he will have done real damage to the anti-Kavanaugh efforts — and will deserve to be exiled from cable TV and public life," warned Vox's Zack Beauchamp before the Swetnick statement was released.

Outside observers are inherently more skeptical of charges that originate from openly partisan sources with clear political ambitions. That describes Avenatti perfectly. Anyone inclined to think his timing is linked to delaying and denying Kavanaugh's confirmation has far better reason to do so with regard to Avenatti than Ford or journalist Ronan Farrow.

But at the grassroots level, liberals and Democrats are angry. They believe their party is meek and plays by rules Republicans routinely flout. Memories of Robert Bork have dimmed, but recollections of Merrick Garland burn bright. Clarence Thomas is on the court and Garland is not.

Many liberals already thought Kavanaugh was a liar even before the first sexual assault allegations came out. They are now prepared to believe the very worst about Trump's Supreme Court pick, as persuadable voters approach information overload. Avenatti stands ready to give it to them.

Will that cause progressives to overlook Avenatti's controversial past and penchant for publicity-seeking? If he can turn the tide against the Kavanaugh nomination, maybe so.

Avenatti is used to appearing on cable news. But the spotlight on him is about to get hotter than ever before. Can he hold up to the public exposure or will he melt under pressure? That will be his first 2020 test.

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W. James Antle III

W. James Antle III is the politics editor of the Washington Examiner, the former editor of The American Conservative, and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?.