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By Rebecca Shabad and Sarah Fitzpatrick

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday referred Julie Swetnick, who made sexual misconduct accusations last month against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and her lawyer Michael Avenatti to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.

Swetnick and Avenatti tried to “knowingly mislead the committee” about Kavanaugh, Grassley, R-Iowa, suggested in a statement, calling for a probe “relating to a potential conspiracy to provide materially false statements to Congress and obstruct a congressional committee investigation.”

“Avenatti publicized his client’s allegations of drug- and alcohol-fueled gang rapes in the 1980s," said Grassley. "The obvious, subsequent contradictions along with the suspicious timing of the allegations necessitate a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.” He added that the referral was merely a request for an investigation “and is not intended to be an allegation of a crime.”

Republicans said Swetnick contradicted several of her claims that she made in her sworn statement in an interview with NBC News. She and Avenatti first went public with her allegations the day before Kavanaugh testified before the Judiciary Committee for a second time, responding to Ford’s allegations. A few days later, Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed in a 50-48 Senate vote and quickly sworn in as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Swetnick accused Kavanaugh of engaging in repeated lewd behavior with women at parties in the early 1980s, and of putting drugs or alcohol in punch to cause women to become inebriated so they could be "gang raped" by a group of men at parties. Kavanaugh denied the claims.

On Thursday, Avenatti quickly pushed back. “Senator Grassley has just made a major mistake. Let the investigation into Kavanaugh and his lies begin,” he told NBC News.

“It is ironic that Senator Grassley now is interested in investigations," he also tweeted. "He didn’t care when it came to putting a man on the SCOTUS for life. We welcome the investigation as now we can finally get to the bottom of Judge Kavanaugh’s lies and conduct. Let the truth be known.”

Frank Thorp V contributed.