Short Take: The Avenatti Factor

It was one hell of a ride, from a bankrupt law firm and fending off disciplinary complaints to being a media darling. All it took was a sordid client available to take down a sordid president, and the boldness to play show pony to the hilt. It’s not that serious people took Michael Avenatti seriously, but that the desperate and disaffected would seize upon any hero they could find. For reasons they neglected to consider, lawyers tended not to be as easily swayed by his bluster as MSNBC pundits.

But Avenatti is now being blamed, to some extent, for undermining the significance of Christine Blasey Ford’s “credible” accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Has he lost his luster? Did he overplay his hand. Is this the end of the Avenatti show?

The spotlight-stealing lawyer, who also represented Stormy Daniels, is responsible for drawing the media’s attention to Julie Swetnick, an alleged victim of Kavanaugh who told an inconsistent and unpersuasive story. Swetnick’s wild accusation provided cover for fence-sitting senators to overlook the more plausible allegation leveled by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, and to declare that Kavanaugh was being subjected to false smears.

Indeed, in her speech announcing her decision to vote for Kavanaugh, Collins explicitly made note of Swetnick’s allegation, which she described as “outlandish.”

There is a saying, “under promise and over deliver.” This doesn’t describe Avenatti’s approach, which was so absurdly over the top as to make even Rachel Maddow wince. By pushing the Swetnick claims as not merely the equivalent, but the conclusive, nail in Kavanaugh’s coffin, and then not merely falling short but becoming a laughingstock for how ridiculous her accusations were, he beclowned himself and destroyed any credibility he had built in the eyes of the unduly passionate.

But is Avenatti really to blame for any damage other than to himself and his client?

Avenatti—and to a lesser extent, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, who ran with a story so thin The New York Times wouldn’t print it—took the narrow question of whether Kavanaugh or Ford were more believable, and raised the stakes by asserting he was a serial sexual abuser, rather than an inconsiderate, sexually aggressive teenage drunk. It was always going to be easier to poke holes in the grander narrative. This very well may have been a gift to those who were looking for cover to vote for Kavanaugh.

This reflects a gap in the evidence in the court of public opinion, where ludicrous claims sucked the credibility from more serious claims, contributing to both the circus-like atmosphere of disingenuous, belated attacks and the view that these were lies, politically-motivated and thus all part of a scheme to undermine a judge.

But each claim, each accusation, stands alone as well as, at least to some, together. That Avenatti seized upon the opportunity to leap into the limelight with an absurd accusation doesn’t mean that Ford’s allegations are any weaker or stronger, or that Ford’s motivation for coming forward is tainted by Avenatti’s motivations for playing the fool.

The ability to separate claims, to distinguish issues, is one of those lawyer things people can’t stand. After all, what are the chances that three accusations, out of the blue, suddenly materialized against a judge hated by one tribe? That’s certainly one way to look at it. But the other way is that these were three individuals, each with their own particular accusations, and each of which may be true, or not, without regard to what some other crazies may throw into the mix.

Of course Avenatti screwed up the mix by dirtying public perception of the accusation en masse with his ridiculously over-the-top claims. Politics is all about perception, and what Avenatti did certainly blew the perception that the accusations were legitimate.

It’s unfortunate for the anti-Trump resistance, and for Ford, that Avenatti couldn’t help but make the story about him.

It’s unfortunate that so many failed to appreciate that Avenatti’s clown show was about Avenatti, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Ford accusation, which should rise or fall based on its own merit.

14 thoughts on “Short Take: The Avenatti Factor

  1. Anon

    Will there be a criminal investigation against Swetnick? How can someone tell such life destroying lies without there being consequences?

    1. SHG Post author

      I hear it’s been placed on the official list of GRAVE INJUSTICES THAT CANNOT STAND!!! Unfortunately, it’s a very long list.

  2. Guitardave

    “clown show”…no doubt, the hand-waving part of the magic trick…although the hand may also be waving in an effort to disperse the stench coming from Ms. Fords ex(ha!)-FBI handler ‘friend’.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve deliberately avoided parsing the issues of Ford’s claims. Much as I might like to raise certain points about it, it will devolve into idiocy. So please don’t bring in that which I’ve studiously left out.

  3. tom swift

    Avenetti’s circus opened the door to the realization that it really is rash to “believe the woman”.

    Once that’s conceded, there’s no sensible reason to give any credit at all to Ford’s tales, either. Q.E.D.

    Blind faith was the only reason to waste any time on Ford’s totally unsupported stories/accusations/fantasies, and once that evaporates, there’s nothing else. Now, if she had any evidence, or corroboration from witnesses, or old police reports, or even a complete and coherent memory of the event (either synthetically “recovered” or real), that might be another matter. But she had none of those things. Once the “faith” balloon is popped, there’s nothing there.

  4. B. McLeod

    Avenatti just put the ludicrous claims out there. Had no unicorn riders seized upon them, or tried to demand that they be included in the FBI investigation, they would have just splatted into the sewer of irrelevancy like an ABA policy statement. So the fault is not in his buffoonery, but in the buffoonery of the “wait, here’s more” crowd of fanatics who picked up this mouldering steamer and tried to run with it. Of course, it iss not in the nature of such people to accept responsibility for their own actions, so, yeah, it must be Avenatti’s fault.

  5. solon

    This seems to me to be the flip side of “similar fact evidence” (that is the Canadian term; I don’t know the US term for it), usually used to show the propensity of the accused to certain behaviour of which he has been accused. In this case, however, the failure of subsequent claims to support that propensity ends up undermining the original claim.
    So, while it is true that “each accusation[] stands alone”, we also, as a society, have found that accusations, even in court, can also stand together. If one can strengthen another, why also not weaken.
    (I’m trying to respond to the idea that treating them as related is only a non-lawyer thing to do.)
    Of course, using similar fact evidence to prove a positive is different from trying to prove a negative…

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