Trump: Michael Avenatti is a 'lowlife'

After a third woman, Julie Swetnick, accused Brett Kavanaugh of inappropriate, sexually aggressive behavior in high school, President Trump called Swetnick's attorney Michael Avenatti a "lowlife."

Posted: Sep 27, 2018 12:22 PM
Updated: Sep 27, 2018 12:34 PM

Perhaps more than any time since his tumultuous presidency began 19 months ago, Donald Trump faces a series of onrushing political challenges over the next 24 hours that could well set the course not just for the coming midterm elections but the remaining two years of his first term.

Consider what Trump faces:

* A third accuser has come forward against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, alleging that she personally witnessed Kavanaugh "engage in abusive and physically aggressive behavior towards girls, including pressing girls against him without their consent, 'grinding' against girls and attempting to remove or shift girls' clothing to expose private body parts" at parties in high school. The woman, Julie Swetnick, also said in a sworn statement that was provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh was present as a party where she was drugged and gang raped.

Trump, who initially handled the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school with care, has since taken a far more aggressive tone as Ford has been joined by Swetnick and Deborah Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in a Yale dorm room in the 1980s. Kavanaugh has denied all the allegations against him.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump blasted Michael Avenatti, who is representing Swetnick and is also the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, as a "lowlife." Asked whether he believed Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick are all lying, Trump refused to answer. "What's your next question," he said to the assembled reporters.

* The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Kavanaugh and Ford is set to begin at 10 a.m. ET Thursday, an event that will be broadcast to millions upon millions of people. Democrats are calling on Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, to postpone the hearing due to the new allegations from Ramirez and Swetnick. He has refused -- and has even scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation in committee for Friday.

Meanwhile, there are cracks beginning to appear among Republican senators.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski acknowledged Tuesday that an FBI investigation into the allegations from Kavanuagh's past "would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn't it?"

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake floated the possibility that if Thursday's hearing didn't answer all of his (or any other senator's questions) about Kavanuagh, the committee vote on Kavanaugh might have to be delayed.

And Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker told reporters that there were more undecideds within the GOP conference in regard to Kavanaugh than were being reported: "I would guess there are 20 people, at least, in our caucus that are going to listen to these hearings," Corker told CNN's Kristin Wilson. "I would say that at least half of our caucus is going to be watching the hearing tomorrow and making their own determination."

* Trump is slated to meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein some time on Thursday, a conversation widely expected to determine whether Rosenstein stays on the job through the midterms, is fired by Trump or chooses to resign.

That meeting comes 72 hours after there was near-unanimity in political Washington that Rosenstein had either been fired or had resigned in the wake of a New York Times report last Friday that he had openly floated the possibility of wearing a wire to tape the President and had even discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. (Rosenstein said the story was wrong but offered very little rebuttal of specifics contained within the reporting.)

Rosenstein matters so much because he currently oversees special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (If Rosenstein is fired or resigns, that duty will fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.) Trump has been hugely critical of nearly every aspect of the investigation -- from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from it to the political donation habits of Mueller's investigators. On at least one occasion, Trump has asked for Mueller to be fired, but that directive was ignored by White House counsel Don McGahn for fear of the legal and political repercussions of such a move. He has repeatedly described the probe as a "witch hunt" and a "hoax." He has also said that it is illegal. (It's not.)

The concern among Democrats is that firing or forcing Rosenstein to remove Mueller is the latest sign of Trump's attempt to obstruct Mueller's investigation. The worry among Republicans is that removing Rosenstein sends a signal that Trump is concerned about the probe and is taking out someone who has been a stalwart backer of Mueller and his right to continue investigating until he is satisfied.

And so Trump is dealing with not only a Supreme Court nominee teetering on the brink of failure but also a personnel decision with wide-reaching political -- and potentially legal -- implications. All at once.

What's more, all indications are that Trump's state of mind is not where lots of Republicans would like it to be at the moment. Over the last 24 hours, he has lashed out at the women accusing Kavanaugh and dismissed their allegations as politically motivated smears against a good man.

"The Democrats are playing a high level CON GAME in their vicious effort to destroy a fine person," Trump tweeted just before 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday night. "It is called the politics of destruction. Behind the scene the Dems are laughing. Pray for Brett Kavanaugh and his family!"

Trump is also annoyed, according to CNN's reporting, with Kavanaugh's attempts to defend himself from the claims made by these three women. Wrote CNN's White House team Wednesday afternoon:

"President Donald Trump has grown increasingly dissatisfied with the way Brett Kavanaugh has defended himself in wake of sexual assault allegations that have threatened to derail his Supreme Court nomination ...

... It has led the President to believe that he must personally take charge of defending his embattled nominee ahead of Thursday's critical appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Into that already potent -- and potentially toxic -- brew, you mix the reality that, with the midterm elections now just 41 days away, Republican strategists are growing increasingly pessimistic that they can avoid a Democratic wave election that will likely sweep them from the House majority and might even threaten a Senate majority that was considered impenetrable even a year ago. The blame game has already begun in some circles, with strategists noting that with Trump's job approval stuck in the lows 40s (or even low 30s), the party's downballot candidates never had much of a chance. And that Trump's repeated assertion that there was a "red wave" building in the country -- despite zero evidence -- is serving to lull GOP base voters into a false sense of calm about what's coming in six weeks' time.

Add it all up and you get this: A notoriously mercurial President who hates to lose coming face to face with a series of challenges in which there may be no "winning" option and which also have the potential to define not just the present political moment but Trump's first four years in office.

In short: Look out. We could be talking about what happens in the next 24 hours for a very long time to come.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to show Ramirez alleges Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in a Yale dorm room.

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