- Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee hired longtime Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Christine Blasey Ford during her testimony Thursday.
- Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were teenagers in the 1980s.
- Mitchell is a respected, experienced prosecutor who specialises in sex crimes, and has said that the innocence and vulnerability of victims is what first drew her to the practice.
The woman questioning Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday during her testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has built her career out of investigating sex crimes and interviewing traumatized victims of abuse.
Senate Republicans first announced on Tuesday they had hired Arizona sex-crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her during a party when the two were teenagers.
Mitchell began her questioning of Ford by acknowledging the fear Ford said she faced in testifying before the committee.
“I just wanted to tell you that the first thing that struck me from your statement this morning was that you are terrified, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m very sorry. That’s not right,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s retention was the latest development in a series of controversies over the hotly anticipated hearing. Although Ford had requested that senators question her rather than a lawyer, Senate Republicans defended Mitchell’s hiring as necessary to ensure a fair and respectful hearing.
It will also allow Senate Republicans to avoid the optics of having 11 male Republicans grilling Ford with questions about a sensitive subject.
“We have done it because we want to depoliticize the whole process, like the Democrats politicized the Anita Hill thing,” Grassley said in a statement, referring to Hill’s 1991 testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment.
“I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the ‘circus’ atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4,” Grassley added.
‘It struck me how innocent and vulnerable the victims of these cases really were’
Mitchell is the perfect candidate for the job, according to those in Arizona’s law-enforcement community who know her. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery sang her praises in a statement on Tuesday.
“The American people can be confident that Rachel Mitchell’s experience as a conscientious prosecutor, trained to seek justice, protect victims, and pursue truth will assist the Senate Judiciary Committee in performing its important task,” he said.
A longtime prosecutor who worked her way up to the role of chief of the Special Victims Division of the Maricopa County attorney’s office, Mitchell is highly experienced in prosecuting sexual assault cases. She is currently on leave from her position, according to Grassley’s statement.
Mitchell has prosecuted several high-profile cases throughout her career, including the 2005 conviction of Rev. Paul LeBrun, a former Catholic priest accused of molesting young boys. LeBrun was eventually sentenced to 111 years in prison.
“She’s one of these career prosecutors who specialises in sex crimes,” Paul Ahler, who formerly worked in the Maricopa County attorney’s office, told The Arizona Republic. “It’s hard to find those people because a lot of people get burned out on those issues, but it’s kind of been her life mission.”
Mitchell is particularly well-known for working with child victims. She has helped develop best practices when interviewing victims, and was once named the “Outstanding Arizona Sexual Assault Prosecutor of the Year.”
It was in part the helplessness of young victims that drew Mitchell to the specialty. In 2012, she told FrontLine Magazine that she had never intended to specialize in sex-crimes prosecution until she became a law clerk and was paired up with a senior attorney who was prosecuting a youth choir director.
“It was different than anything that I would have ever imagined it being. It intrigued me,” Mitchell said. “It struck me how innocent and vulnerable the victims of these cases really were. When I became an attorney with the office I prosecuted other kinds of cases, but I was drawn back to this area.”
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