Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee would enlist the help of a “female assistant” to question Christine Blasey Ford, the professor accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school.
Later Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), named the woman the committee majority had in mind as Rachel Mitchell, chief of the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix. Democrats on the committee will question Ford and Kavanaugh themselves.
Grassley, who said the committee initially refused to name Mitchell out of concern “for her safety,” hailed her as having “been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity.” (The committee, he said earlier, was not aware of any threats against Mitchell: “I guess we’re just being cautious.”)
A registered Republican, Mitchell has been with the county attorney’s office for 26 years. In Arizona, she is best known for her successful prosecution of a former Catholic priest accused of molesting six young boys. In a 2012 interview with a Christian conservative publication, Mitchell spoke about some of the misconceptions around sexual offenses, particularly when those crimes involve underage victims.
“I would say the largest misconception is that ‘stranger danger’ is the rule rather than the fairly rare exception. About 90-to-95 percent of victims know the person who is offending against them,” Mitchell said. “Second, a very common misconception relates to when and how children tell. People think that children would tell everything that happened to them. In reality children often keep this secret for years, sometimes into adulthood, sometimes forever.”
She added: “Third, there is a perception that this happens in secret, but the reality is that it frequently happens with others present in the same house and often in the same room.”
Mitchell, who has reportedly advocated for strengthening sexual assault laws in Arizona, was involved in the creation of a sexual assault protocol manual used by her office. The manual recommends prosecutors adopt a “victim sensitive approach,” including training in the neurobiology of trauma, and recommends “prosecutors should facilitate participation, promote treatment that’s compassionate and respectful of the victim and ensure offender accountability.”
Ford’s lawyer, however, objected to Mitchell’s hiring in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate,” Michael Bromwhich wrote. “Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial. The goal should be to develop the revevant facts, not try a case.”
The move by Republicans, Grassley told reporters, was intended to “de-politicize” the process, but has been widely viewed as an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the Anita Hill hearings during Justice Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation process almost three decades ago. Hill was interrogated by an all-white, all-male panel that ultimately dismissed her claims, now deemed highly credible. (Some of the same senators are still sit on the committee, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who said in 1991 Hill’s story was “too contrived” to be true and who has said more recently Ford is “mixed-up.”)
Hatch said Tuesday that he assumed Mitchell would ask all of the questions, adding, “although I am very capable of doing it.” On Wednesday morning, Sen. Kennedy (R-LA), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe he trusted the woman picked to do the questioning — he just couldn’t remember her name.