Attorney Michael Avenatti argued this week that the Democratic Party's next presidential nominee "better be a white male" -- at least according to Time Magazine, which says it's standing by its reporting as Avenatti calls the publication's claim "complete bulls---" and insists his remarks were taken out of context.
The dramatic episode comes as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he has referred Avenatti and client Julie Swetnick -- who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct -- for criminal investigation regarding a potential “conspiracy” to provide false statements to Congress and obstruct its investigation.
Avenatti, himself a potential 2020 contender for the White House who has teased an upcoming run against President Trump, was apparently making a broader point about racial injustice and bigotry in his interview with Time.
The magazine's profile of Avenatti reads: "But when it comes to the party’s presidential nominee in 2020, Avenatti thinks in different terms. 'I think it better be a white male,' he says. He hastens to add that he wishes it weren’t so, but it’s undeniable that people listen to white men more than they do others; it’s why he’s been successful representing Daniels and immigrant mothers, he says."
The article, written by Molly Ball and Alana Abramson, then purports to provide a direct quote from Avenatti explaining his position: “When you have a white male making the arguments, they carry more weight. .... Should they carry more weight? Absolutely not. But do they? Yes.”
"I never said that, that’s complete bulls---."
But in an email to Fox News, Avenatti shot back: "I was misquoted and it is out of context. See my many speeches on the subject." (Avenatti has criticized what he calls racial injustice in the past.)
In a phone interview with The Daily Caller, Avenatti was more colorful, telling a reporter, "I never said that, that’s complete bulls---. That’s my comment, complete bulls---. ... No, that’s not what I said."
He also made similar denials to other media organizations, including CNN, in what appeared to be an all-out response to a brewing social media backlash against his remarks. In a Twitter post late Thursday morning, Avenatti reiterated that "sexism and bigotry" are problems that "white males" have a responsibility to address.
"Let me be clear: I have consistently called on white males like me to step, take responsibility, and be a part of stoping the sexism and bigotry that other white males engage in," Avenatti wrote. "It is especially important for them to call out other white males. I make this pt in my speeches."
The brouhaha is the latest apparent setback for the prominent California lawyer. Avenatti, who became famous representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her civil litgation against President Trump, was ordered to pay nearly $5 million to an attorney at his former firm, a California judge ruled Monday.
The judge at the hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court – which Avenatti did not attend -- said Avenatti must pay $4.85 million because he personally guaranteed a settlement with attorney Jason Frank in a lawsuit over back pay. Frank had alleged the firm misstated its profits and he was owed millions.
Monday's decision also follows an earlier ruling from a U.S. bankruptcy court judge who ordered Avenatti's former firm to pay $10 million to Frank.
Avenatti was criticized by Trump last week after a federal judge tossed out a defamation lawsuit brought by Avenatti, saying the president's statements were legally protected opinions that could not form the basis for a lawsuit.
“I just beat him in a big case. … Beat him badly. In fact, he has to pay me legal fees,” Trump told Fox Business’ Trish Regan. “I don’t think he has any money, but he and [Stormy Daniels] have to pay me a lot of legal fees.”
Fox News' Brooke Singman and Greg Norman contributed to this report.