When Christine Blasey Ford testifies publicly Thursday about her sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee won’t ask all their own questions. In what some see as a politically cynical move, the all-male cohort hired an outside female attorney to help interrogate Ford and Kavanaugh. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley announced on Tuesday that he had tapped Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor, for the role.
Mitchell has been a prosecutor since 1993 and spent 12 years leading the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s sex crimes bureau. She eventually became chief of the office’s Special Victims Division, which handles both sex crimes and family violence, and the deputy county attorney. She is currently on leave from these positions.
“She’s reasonable. She’s not the kind of person who’s going to attack someone,” said Robert Kavanagh, an Arizona attorney who has represented a handful of defendants in cases that Mitchell was prosecuting (and who is not related to the nominee). He said that he believes Mitchell will be “professional” in carrying out her duties on Thursday. “I can’t think of anything unethical or inappropriate that was done,” he told Slate about his experience opposing her.
According to the Washington Post, Mitchell was best known until now for successfully prosecuting a Phoenix priest named Paul LeBrun in 2005 for sexually abusing boys between the ages of 11 and 13. She managed to convince the judge to allow two men from Indiana to testify against LeBrun even though the statute of limitations for their cases had passed. The priest was later sentenced to 111 years in prison.
According to Grassley’s announcement, Mitchell has further won awards for her work from the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, the Arizona Children’s Justice Task Force, and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Mitchell has used her position to advocate for stronger sexual assault laws and better accommodations to make abuse victims more comfortable when testifying in court. She is a registered Republican.
For the most part, though, Mitchell has not been especially prominent. She rarely gives extensive comments to the press. In a 2011 interview with FrontLine magazine that multiple outlets have dug up, she discussed her views on the sexual abuse of children. When asked about the anxiety among children’s workers in churches that they may be falsely accused of molestation, Mitchell said, “False accusations are very rare. … The reality is that the authorities, if they are brought in to investigate, can weed out false accusations and the criminal justice system can do that.”
Mitchell faced some criticism in 2003 for questioning the credibility of a quadriplegic woman who accused her husband of physically abusing her after initially denying the allegations. Mitchell further chose not to prosecute the case. She also weathered backlash in 2011 for making a plea deal with a Jehovah’s Witness elder who spent only six months in jail on charges of sexually abusing a teenage boy.
Grassley’s recruitment of a female prosecutor for the questioning has also drawn scrutiny from Democrats, who argue that the senator sought out a woman for the role simply to avoid the damaging spectacle of having the 11 Republican men on the Judiciary Committee probe into Ford’s personal life. Through her lawyers, Ford herself had requested that the senators themselves ask the questions rather than relying on an outside counsel. Grassley has claimed that he wanted an outside counsel’s help “to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible.”