Lawmakers Seek Update From DOJ on Avenatti, Swetnick Criminal Referrals: ‘What Have You Done?’

Lawmakers Seek Update From DOJ on Avenatti, Swetnick Criminal Referrals: ‘What Have You Done?’
Attorney Michael Avenatti speaks to the press after leaving the federal court house in Manhattan, on March 25, 2019. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, was among lawmakers who wrote to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Oct. 8, asking what the department has done with criminal referrals made in the wake of the hearings.

Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but the hearings included a slew of sexual assault allegations, none of which were proven.

Grassley referred attorney Michael Avenatti and Julie Swetnick, Avenatti’s client who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, for a criminal probe in October 2018, asserting that both conspired to lie to Congress and obstruct an investigation.
Swetnick changed major parts of her story about Kavanaugh during a television interview. NBC came forward after Grassley made the referral with information that rebutted Swetnick’s account. The network withheld the information for nearly one month.
In the letter to the DOJ and the FBI, Grassley and other lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), asked Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray what’s been done in the wake of the referrals. There were four referrals in total.

“These criminal referrals were not made lightly. In each of the aforementioned cases, the referred individual(s) made false allegations against then-Judge Kavanaugh. These allegations were taken seriously and carefully investigated by Committee staff, resulting in the diversion of significant resources,” they wrote.

The other two referrals were about a man who initially claimed he witnessed Kavanaugh and a friend assault someone on a boat in Rhode Island but later recanted and apologized, and a woman who claimed she was assaulted in a car by Kavanaugh and a friend but later admitted she made the claim “as a way to grab attention.”

“[When] individuals intentionally mislead the Committee, they divert important Committee resources during time-sensitive investigations and materially impede its work. Such acts are not only unfair; they are potentially illegal. It is illegal to make materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements to Congressional investigators. It is illegal to obstruct Committee investigations,” the lawmakers wrote to Barr and Wray.

“It is important to protect the constitutional process from being hijacked by bad actors involved in insidious partisan operations. The Committee can bring bad actors to the attention of law enforcement and the American people by being as transparent as possible about its investigative findings. However, it is up to the FBI and the Justice Department to hold those who mislead Congress accountable for the criminal aspects of their behavior.

“The next Supreme Court nominee should not have to defend himself or herself against baseless and fabricated allegations, and Committee staff should not have to spend valuable time investigating them.”

The lawmakers asked Barr and Wray for a response by Oct. 21 detailing if the FBI opened a criminal investigation based on any of the referrals; if they did, then they were asked if any of the probes resulted in a referral to the DOJ for prosecution, and if they didn’t, they asked, “Why not?”

Barr and Wray were also asked, “For each case that was referred to the DOJ for prosecution, which cases were rejected and which were accepted for prosecution?”

Grassley wrote on Twitter that the Judiciary Committee had found in four cases that people had lied to Congress about Kavanaugh, which is against the law. He stated that a “clear signal” needed to be sent to prevent people from lying to Congress in the future, and asked the DOJ what it has done in the past year about those criminal referrals.

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