AP NEWS

Michael Avenatti’s Brett Kavanaugh client claim boosts 2020 profile

September 26, 2018

Lawyer Michael Avenatti’s claim that one of his clients has damaging information on Brett Kavanaugh has thrust President Trump’s nemesis back in front of the television cameras and into the living rooms of potential voters he’s wooing as he ponders an unlikely presidential run in 2020.

Those aspirations have generally been met with skepticism, but there are signs Mr. Avenatti’s relentless hounding of Mr. Trump is breaking through to Democratic activists who say they’re waiting to see if he can shed a Hollywood lawyer image and back up his claims.

“I think the risk is that [the Kavanaugh claim] blows up in your face,” said Kathleen Sullivan, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Hampshire, “that you tell folks something is going to happen, and it doesn’t happen, or it is not going to quite be what the build up has been. But I have to say, pretty much so far the things he has said have come to fruition for the most part.”

Attorney to a porn star and other celebrities isn’t a traditional career path to the White House, but then again, neither was real estate developer and reality TV celebrity prior to 2016. Mr. Avenatti has no prior electoral or government experience as he ponders a White House run, but then again, neither did Donald Trump.

Mr. Avenatti has spent the last year bedeviling Mr. Trump as the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels. He claimed victory after Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, admitted to making hush payments to Ms. Clifford in violation of campaign laws.

The fight made Mr. Avenatti a TV star, dominating cable news networks and scoring invites to late-night comedy shows.

Now he’s after Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

Over the weekend he announced he has a client who says she observed the judge, while in high school, using drugs and alcohol to lure girls into group sex. On Tuesday he added to the drama, saying his mysterious client will publicly describe her allegations within 36 hours just before Judge Kavanaugh is scheduled to testify alongside another accuser.

He also attacked a report that he had been duped by fake claims against Mr. Kavanaugh.

“This is completely false. It never happened; it is a total fabrication,” he said on Twitter. “The right must be very worried. They should be.”

In between his work as a lawyer, the PR-savvy 47-year-old Californian has also released a set of campaign principles and trekked to Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in the presidential primary calendar, to sound out activists.

Bret Niles, chairman of the Linn County Democrats in Iowa, said that if Mr. Avenatti is serious about running for president then “getting involved in the Kavanaugh nomination process is probably a good thing” particularly because Iowa’s own Sen. Chuck Grassley is the Republican in charge of the confirmation process.

“Standing up against this current nominee, if he does have something to derail it, would certainly score him some points,” Mr. Niles said.

Beyond the mainstream

Chris Taylor, chairman of the Johnson County Iowa Democrats, said Mr. Avenatti is not considered among the “A-list” of potential 2020 presidential hopes, but said it is far too early to write him off in a wide-open Democratic field with no clear front-runner.

“I think people are looking for something outside the mainstream political establishment,” Mr. Taylor said. “I think that is frankly how we ended up with President Trump, and that certainly is part of the appeal for someone like Michael Avenatti.”

The challenge Mr. Avenatti faces is to not get pigeonholed as single-issue candidate, he said.

“If he is not careful, he is going to get typecast as nothing more than a thorn in President Trump’s side and I think that alone does not qualify him to run for president,” Mr. Taylor said. “I don’t think it disqualifies him either, but I think he needs to put together a series of policy positions to go with it.”

Mr. Avenatti has provided an early glimpse into his political views, arguing that Democrats should fight for Medicare-for-all, “sensible” gun control, “affordable” college and a pathway to citizenship for the young illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

But the main thrust of his message has been that Democrats must take a no-holds-barred approach to toppling Mr. Trump.

“What I fear most for this Democratic Party that I love so much is that we have a tendency to bring nail-clippers to a gunfight,” Mr. Avenatti said in New Hampshire last month. “I believe that our party, the Democratic Party, must be a party that fights fire with fire.”

“So I saw when they go low, we hit harder,” he said, giving his own take on former First Lady Michelle Obama’s maxim that “when they go low, we go high.”

The provocative lawyer is stirring both excitement and wariness as Democrats try to figure out what to make of him.

He’s slated to appear this weekend at a fundraising dinner for the Plymouth Area Democrats in New Hampshire. But the locals didn’t appear to be particularly eager to talk about him.

“At this time, we have no wish to comment or participate in a story about Michael Avenatti or any impression he may have made with Democratic activists,” a spokeswoman for the Plymouth Area Democrats said.

And some Democrats skipped out on a traditional fundraising dinner known as the Wing Ding that Mr. Avenatti headlined in Iowa last month apparently missing out on a barn-burner of a speech.

“There were high-profile Democrats that were hesitant in coming to the Wing Ding because they were afraid of what Michael Avenatti’s message would be,” said Randy Black, the event organizer. “Well, guess what? He blew it out of the ballpark.”

“It was their loss and our gain,” Mr. Black said.

Mrs. Sullivan said she also had reservations about Mr. Avenatti before she had a chance to meet him last month in New Hampshire.

“I anticipated a flashy Hollywood lawyer,” she said, with a laugh. “Those of us who met with him at that meeting I think we all walked away saying the same thing. He is pretty impressive in terms of being smart and articulate. He is not a joke.”

“I will say this,” Mrs. Sullivan said. “It would be a mistake to underestimate him.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly