The semi-nascent presidential campaign of celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti suffered a huge blow this week, with a trio of terrible headlines that seemed to highlight how ill-prepared Avenatti is mount a national political campaign.
In the past year, Avenatti, 47, has emerged as one of President Donald Trump's most vocal and visible critics by virtue of representing adult film star Stormy Daniels in her ongoing lawsuit against Trump over a 2016 hush money payment. Avenatti has deftly parlayed the publicity surrounding the Daniels case into a dizzying amount of publicity for himself.
Now, Avenatti says he's actively considering a run for president against Trump in 2020, although he has no political experience and has never held public office. In August, he created The Fight PAC, a political action committee that Avenatti said would raise money to help his fellow Democrats.
But just as Avenatti's political star appeared to be rising, the trifecta of damaging news stories this week cast doubt on how far Avenatti can actually go in politics. They also highlighted three unforced errors that Avenatti is making on the campaign trail, each of which could imperil his presidential ambitions.
On Monday, a California judge ruled that Avenatti must pay a former law partner $4.5 million in back pay. The case was one of several business disputes that have dogged Avenatti in recent years, though he has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Four days later, Time magazine published a profile of Avanatti that contained this eye-popping quote: Asked who the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee should be, Avenatti replied, "I think it [had] better be a white male. When you have a white male making the arguments, they carry more weight. Should they carry more weight? Absolutely not. But do they? Yes."
Prominent voices on the political left wasted no time in assailing Avenatti over the remarks. "Someone tell Michael Avenatti that the people who received the most votes in U.S. history were not white males," wrote CNN commentator Keith Boykin on Twitter. Civil rights activist Shaun King wrote, "This man is a clown... and now we are learning he's also a sexist bigot." Avenatti says the quote was taken out of context.
Also on Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, formally referred Avenatti and one of his clients, Julie Swetnick, to the FBI for criminal prosecution. In a detailed letter to the FBI, Grassley alleged that Avenatti and Swetnick made "materially false statements" to the committee about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearings.