The Slatest

Rachel Mitchell’s Interrogation of Christine Blasey Ford Quickly Devolved Into an Embarrassment

Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell interrogates Christine Blasey Ford.
Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell interrogates Christine Blasey Ford at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. Pool/Getty Images

It seems fair to assume that Senate Republicans brought in Rachel Mitchell to undermine Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh to ensure that the Supreme Court nominee gets confirmed. GOP senators asked Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor, to question both individuals on their behalf, largely because the optics of 11 men interrogating one woman are not ideal. But as Thursday’s hearing progressed, it quickly became clear that the optics of anyone trying to poke holes in Ford’s story are terrible. Mitchell’s questions devolved into a fishing expedition—an obvious attempt to find something, anything, to discredit Ford. It hasn’t worked. Mitchell sounds more like a politician than a prosecutor. And Ford comes across as consistent, competent, and credible.

Initially, Mitchell approached Ford like a lawyer prepping her own witness to get her story straight before trial. She pointed out minor discrepancies in Ford’s account of the alleged sexual assault and asked her to clarify them. How many people, exactly, were at the party? How did she get home? What year, precisely, did the incident occur, and how can she be sure? These questions are fair game, and Mitchell delivered them professionally, using friendly language to prod Ford’s memory. (“Let me make sure we’re on the same page.” “Does that ring a bell?”)

But things took a turn when Mitchell began to quiz Ford about her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The prosecutor asked whether “there are other things that have happened” to Ford, aside from the alleged assault, “that have also contributed” to her disorders. Ford, a psychology professor, gave a perfectly reasonable answer, explaining that there “are other risk factors” as well as “biological predispositions” for “certain disorders.” But the question itself was indefensible. Ford’s history of trauma is irrelevant to the credibility of her accusation; it might help determine how much Kavanaugh harmed her, but it cannot tell us if he harmed her. Mitchell was merely digging for reasons to discount her memory, to depict her as too damaged to recall the event with necessary clarity.

It only got worse from there. Mitchell noted that Ford had resisted testifying in D.C. because she lives in California and has a fear of flying. How could that be, Mitchell wondered, given that she has previously flown to Delaware, Hawaii, and Polynesia? Ford had to explain that, with sufficient support from her loved ones, she can “get the gumption” to fly. Is it truly a surprise that, under the right circumstances, Ford can overcome her phobia? Or that she hesitated to take a cross-country flight to be cross-examined about her trauma? Mitchell’s questions marked a desperate attempt to impeach Ford’s veracity, one that only made Ford seem more candid and relatable.

Mitchell also asked whether Ford talked to a lawyer about Senate investigators’ offer to interview her in California. That prompted her attorney, Michael Bromwich, to object, noting (correctly) that the prosecutor was wading into “privileged conversation between counsel and Dr. Ford.” Sensing the direction that Mitchell was heading, Ford told her that she “wasn’t clear on what the offer was” and that if she had been, she would have “been happy to speak with you out there.”

The strangest colloquy between Mitchell and Ford, however, came when the prosecutor inquired about who had paid for Ford’s polygraph test as well as her lawyers. Really? Why not just go ahead and ask if George Soros is paying her off? Ford handled the matter well, admitting that she didn’t really know the answer, and Bromwich cut in to explain that her lawyers are working pro bono. Mitchell’s conspiratorial question was an embarrassment, a partisan ploy that almost seemed designed to please our conspiratorial president.

Not all of Mitchell’s questions were objectionable—and to her credit, she maintained a courteous, respectful tone even when her inquiries bordered on the absurd. It seems possible that some of her more objectionable questions may have been fed to her by Republican senators. Regardless of whether that’s the case, halfway through Thursday’s hearing, it’s still a mystery why she agreed to take this thankless job. She doesn’t seem intent on character assassination, yet she also failed to extract any meaningful information from Ford. Before wrapping up her interrogation, Mitchell pointed out that a Senate hearing was a pretty terrible way to get to the bottom of a traumatic event. Ford agreed. Too bad Republicans’ artificially accelerated timeline mandated this spectacle.