Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday referred lawyer Michael Avenatti and a woman he represents to the Justice Department and the FBI for criminal investigation, claiming they made potentially false statements to Congress about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and alleged sexual misconduct.
Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, cited "contradictions" between what Avenatti's client, Julie Swetnick, originally told the Judiciary Committee about Kavanaugh in an affidavit in late September, and what she said about the then-Supreme Court nominee days later in an interview with NBC News.
In his letter Thursday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for an investigation, Grassley listed "potential violations" of federal criminal code, specifically "conspiracy, false statements and obstruction of Congress."
"Swetnick made her allegations in a sworn statement to the committee on September 26. In an October 1 interview with NBC News, however, Swetnick specifically and explicitly back-tracked or contradicted key parts of her sworn statement on these and other allegations," the Judiciary Committee said in a statement.
"In subsequent interviews, Avenatti likewise cast serious doubt on or contradicted the allegations while insisting that he had thoroughly vetted his client," according to the statement.
The committee said there was a "lack of substantiating or corroborating evidence" about Swetnick's claims, and also cited "overarching and serious credibility problems pervading the presentation of these allegations."
In a tweet responding to Grassley's referral, Avenatti said he and Swetnick "welcome the investigation" and hit the senator for allegedly not showing enough interest in Swetnick's claims as Grassley pushed to confirm Kavanaugh.
When asked for comment by CNBC, Avenatti referred to his tweet and added: "Sen. Grassley has just made a major mistake."
"Let the investigation into Kavanaugh and his lies begin," Avenatti said.
Kavanaugh has strongly denied all allegations of sexual misconduct as a young man, which came to light in September, when he was awaiting a confirmation vote by the Judiciary Committee.
Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court was thrown into doubt that month after a college professor, Christine Blasey Ford, said he had drunkenly held her down forcibly on a bed, ground his body against her, and tried to pull off her clothes at a private home get-together of several high school students in the early 1980s.
Another woman soon went public with her claims that Kavanaugh during an acohol-fuelled party at Yale College in the mid-1980s.
Then, in an affidavit released in late September, Swetnick, 55, said she attended parties in the early 1980s with people including Kavanaugh.
She claimed in the affidavit that she learned of efforts by the justice and his friend, Mark Judge, "to spike the drinks of girls at house parties I attended with grain alcohol and/or drugs so as to cause girls to lose inhibitions and their ability to say 'No.'"
Swetnick said she "witnessed efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be 'gang raped' in a side room or bedroom by a 'train' of numerous boys."
"I have a firm recollection of seeing boys lined up outside rooms at many of these parties waiting for their 'turn' with a girl inside the room," Swetnick said. "These boys included Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh."
But in her NBC News Interview when asked if she saw Kavanaugh or Judge spike drinks, she said she saw Kavanaugh "around the punch containers" and had seen him "giving red cups to quite a few girls during that time frame."
But, Swetnick added, "I don't know what he did. But I saw him by them, yes."
Also in that interview, Swetnick said that boys at these parties were not "lined up" but "huddled by the doors." She said that she only realized the purpose of these groups when she became the victim of a gang rape.
Avenatti vaulted to national prominence as he represented former adult film actress Stormy Daniels in various legal claims against President Donald Trump, whom she claims had an affair with her in 2006. The White House has denied Daniels' claims, but Trump reimbursed his ex-personal lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment he made to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.
Avenatti is considering whether to mount a Democratic presidential bid in 2020.
The criminal investigation referral is the latest in a string of bad news for Avenatti.
On Monday, a judge said he must pay nearly $5 million to an attorney at his former law firm in a dispute over compensation. Last week, another judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Daniels against Trump.