Democratic lawyer and prospective 2020 presidential candidate Michael Avenatti represents a woman named Julie Swetnick who’s made grave accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Swetnick says she attended parties with Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge in the early ’80s at which the pair targeted girls with spiked drinks and then took advantage of them sexually; she says she was raped by multiple people at one such gathering. (Kavanaugh and Judge deny any involvement in such activities, and to be clear, Swetnick did not say they were among the individuals who raped her, merely that they were “present” on the night she was attacked.)
Avenatti is handling these timely and serious allegations as if he’s marketing a new Cloverfield movie:
The woman on the right is NBC’s Kate Snow, which makes this what is likely the first-ever instance of a cryptic, hashtag-saturated promotional still being used to hype a news interview about being drugged and sexually assaulted.
Avenatti’s tweet—which, for a time, appeared on his Twitter feed just below his “pinned” list of seemingly 2020-minded campaign positions—is not just in poor taste; it also highlights the tactically questionable way he’s handled Swetnick’s allegations. Avenatti first publicized her account last Wednesday by posting her sworn declaration on Twitter; while such a formal document is credible in and of itself, NBC appears to be the first media outlet that Swetnick has spoken to at length, and a source told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the network is still verifying details related to her story. That means at least five days will have passed between the announcement of her allegations and the first independent reporting that includes an interview with her—five days during which Kavanaugh’s nomination passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the FBI reopened a background check into him that doesn’t appear likely to address her claims. In the meantime, though, Avenatti did find time to tweet confrontationally at Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham (he said he’d “enjoy” embarrassing Ingraham by bringing more information about Swetnick to light), and NBC’s Megyn Kelly.
Wait, did I say five days? That’s just who Avenatti has tweeted at since Sunday morning. Before that, he also picked fights related to Swetnick’s charges with Sen. Ted Cruz, Fox News legal pundit Alan Dershowitz, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and Donald Trump Jr. This openly partisan approach has had the predictable result of incentivizing Republicans, who are calling the shots on the FBI investigation, to ignore Swetnick’s allegations as the work of a “porn lawyer.” They would have wanted to ignore the allegations anyway, of course—but consider that Kavanaugh’s second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, who went public via a New Yorker story that featured material supporting the plausibility of her story, subsequently was included on the list of witnesses to be contacted during the reopened FBI investigation. (Ramirez, who lives in Colorado, has been represented by Boulder attorneys John Clune and Stanley Garnett and D.C. attorney William Pittard.) Public pressure to hear out Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford—who is represented by Democratic attorney Debra Katz but who came forward by speaking to the Washington Post—was strong enough that Republicans invited her to testify before Congress.
Not everything about the timing of Swetnick’s case is under Avenatti’s control, of course: She may have felt compelled to speak up in part to support the other women making allegations. But Avenatti does have discretion over the way he discusses Swetnick’s claims in public, and the way he’s doing so indicates that he sees them in large part as an instrument with which to rally his liberal Twitter fans against Fox News and the Republican Party. In a confirmation process that hinges on the votes of moderate Republican senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski—who are more likely to care about the opinions of independent voters than MSNBC loyalists—that’s not just tasteless. It’s self-defeating.