Lawyer questioning Kavanaugh accuser attacks Republicans
ARIZONA sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell was a long way from the familiarity of a Phoenix courtroom when she questioned Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday in a televised hearing that could determine the fate of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Mitchell typically tries to put people accused of sex crimes in prison, but on Thursday she was in the unusual and difficult position of trying to chip away at the credibility of a woman who claims she was a victim of sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.
And she was doing it on behalf of the 11 Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee who preferred not to question Ford themselves, and in the glare of television lights and with a strict five-minute time limit that seemed to get in her way repeatedly.
As her time for questioning Ford was coming to an end, Mitchell herself seemed to give voice to her exasperation with her task when she rhetorically asked Ford about the best way to question victims of sex crimes.
"Would you believe me that no study says that this setting in five-minute increments is the way to do that?" Mitchell asked.
One Democratic senator, a former prosecutor who is not on the committee, said Mitchell had a "tough job."
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said, "I can't imagine doing either a direct examination or a cross-examination in five-minute increments. And she's not used to cross-examining people who are telling the truth."
Mitchell comes from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix, where she is the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence.
Given that the Judiciary Committee's GOP members are all male, McConnell said the panel was hiring a "female assistant" to handle the questioning for Republicans "in a respectful and professional way."
Grassley, R-Iowa, identified Mitchell in a press release late Wednesday, describing her as "a career prosecutor with decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes."
"My gut is they're trying to avoid a panel of all white guys asking tone-deaf questions," said Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.
But the optics of a woman asking the questions while a row of men watch on behind her, has struck many as "one for the history books".
In her very first exchange with Ford, Mitchell began by expressing sympathy for Ford, who said she was "terrified" to testify, saying, "I just wanted to let you know, I'm very sorry. That's not right."
But then she turned to her task, asking a series of small questions about the accuracy of statements Ford made. In a trial, the answers to those questions can help lawyers paint a picture of a witness as unreliable. But in the Senate hearing room, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley cut in to say her time was up and it was now the Democrats' turn to ask questions.
The questioning moved on to Senator Dianne Feinstein. The scene repeated itself throughout the day. An experienced prosecutor, Mitchell does not operate under time constraints when she questions witnesses in a courtroom.
The tenor of the questions suggested that Mitchell was trying, if gently, to question the reliability of Ford's recollections and portray Ford as a pawn of Democrats who are out to stop Kavanaugh at any cost.
In one example, Mitchell pointed out that Ford did not mention Kavanaugh's name as her attacker between 1982, when the event allegedly took place, and 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband.
Mitchell also asked Ford why she only contacted Democratic politicians about her allegation. Ford replied that she contacted her representative in Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, and that Eshoo recommended contacting Feinstein, a California senator and the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Later, Mitchell pressed Ford repeatedly to reveal who paid for a polygraph exam that Ford took in the late summer.
One of her lawyers, Debra Katz, interjected, "Let me put an end to the mystery. Her lawyers paid for the polygraph."
The questions about the polygraph also illustrated that Mitchell had little time and no prior access to Ford, which might have allowed her to avoid asking questions where the answers hardly undermined Ford as a witness.
When Mitchell asked why the polygraph was done near a Washington-area airport, Ford replied that it was to accommodate her as she headed to her grandmother's funeral.