Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans know it could be a bad look for the 11 white Republican men on the committee to question Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford about her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. So they’ve tapped a woman, Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, to do it.
Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley announced the decision in a statement on Tuesday, saying that he has asked Mitchell, a career prosecutor with years of experience prosecuting sex crimes, to question Ford and Kavanaugh when they testify before the committee on Thursday.
“The majority members have followed the bipartisan recommendation to hire as staff counsel for the committee an experienced career sex crimes prosecutor to question the witness at Thursday’s hearing,” the Iowa Republican said, adding that the goal is to “depoliticize the process and get to the truth.”
Ford and many Democrats have asked for an FBI investigation into the allegations; Republicans have denied that request.
So who is Mitchell?
Rachel Mitchell is a career prosecutor and registered Republican from Arizona who, according to Grassley’s statement, has been a prosecutor since 1993. She comes from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix — the same Maricopa County that’s home to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio — and is on leave from her post as deputy county attorney and division chief of the special victims division, which oversees bureaus that handle sex crimes and family violence. Before that, she spent 12 years running the division’s bureau responsible for prosecuting sex crimes such as child molestation, adult sexual assault, and child prostitution.
The Arizona Republic reports that in 2014, the Maricopa County Commission on trial court appointments recommended her as one of nine candidates to be considered for the county’s superior court judge.
“She’s been a longtime sex crimes prosecutor. She’s clearly competent,” Rick Romley, a former Maricopa County attorney, told the Arizona Republic.
Mitchell’s boss, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, told the publication that Mitchell is “professional, fair, objective” and has a “caring heart” for victims. Judiciary Committee staffers contacted him over the weekend about her qualifications and availability.
One of Mitchell’s first big cases dealt with a Catholic priest accused of child molestation
The Washington Post reports that one of the first major cases Mitchell spearheaded in her current position was a 2005 case against Rev. Paul LeBrun, a former Catholic priest who had been accused of molesting six boys during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Two years before, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office had brought criminal charges against six priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. Most of those charged had entered plea deals or fled the country, but not LeBrun. The case went to trial, and Mitchell won — according to the Post, it was her most high-profile case until now.
In a 2011 interview with Frontline Magazine, Mitchell explained her decision to focus on sex crimes, explaining that her experience as a law clerk working on a case involving a youth choir director as the offender inspired her:
It was different than anything that I would have ever imagined it being. It intrigued me, and I continued to do other work with that bureau chief. 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.
In an interview earlier this year with a Phoenix radio station, Mitchell discussed a decision introducing a new protocol manual her office introduced to ensure justice for victims, according to the Arizona Republic. She said the protocols would lay out best practices for handling sexual assault investigations “so we can do the best we can for victims.”
Joseph Reaves, a former reporter for the Arizona Republic who wrote a book about the Phoenix Diocese sex scandal, said when Mitchell was talking to victims, she was at “her best” and described her as empathetic. He also said he was surprised to learn she would be questioning Ford and Kavanaugh.
“I remember her being so supportive of the sex abuse victims,” he told the Post. “To find out that she was going to be the person to question a sex abuse victim on behalf of the GOP — I was taken aback.”
In that 2011 interview, Mitchell’s remarks also break from President Donald Trump’s assertion last week that if the attack on Ford had been as bad as she says, she would have immediately filed charges. The New York Times flagged her comments, in which she said there is a “very common misconception” of when and how children talk about abuse.
“People think that children would tell right away and that they would tell everything that happened to them,” she said. “In reality children often keep this secret for years, sometimes into their adulthood, sometimes forever.”
Mitchell’s career hasn’t been without controversy, as the Post points out. In 2003, her office was criticized after declining to prosecute a man accused of physically abusing his quadriplegic wife, and in 2011, her office offered a former Jehovah’s Witness elder accused of sexually abusing a teenager a plea agreement of just six months.
This still isn’t the FBI investigation Ford wanted
Ford alleges that she was at a party while in the 1980s with Kavanaugh when they were both in high school when he corralled her into a room, pinned her down, tried to take off her clothes, and covered her mouth to stifle her screams as one of his friends, Mark Judge, looked on. Kavanaugh has categorically denied Ford’s allegations and the allegations of another woman, Deborah Ramirez, who says that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his genitals in her face when they were both drunk at a party their freshman year of college at Yale.
Both Ford’s and Ramirez’s lawyers have pushed for an FBI investigation into their clients’ claims, arguing that it’s the best way to ensure a thorough, fair process. Republicans have said it’s not necessary — they’re going to hear from Ford and Kavanaugh on Thursday, no other witnesses, and that’s that.
Committee Republicans appear to be aware of the optics of 11 men questioning Ford; it’s eerily similar to the all-white panel that grilled Anita Hill about her allegations against Clarence Thomas in 1991. They’re pitching Mitchell as a quick fix, but the presence of a single woman questioner does not address some of the broader issues at hand — there’s still no FBI investigation, other witnesses still aren’t being brought in, and in the Judiciary Committee’s 202-year history, the GOP still hasn’t found a single woman senator to sit on it.