Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced on Tuesday evening that his panel had hired Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona, to question both Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman to publicly accuse him of sexual assault, during their hearing on Thursday.
Mitchell will lead questioning for the 11 Republican senators on the committee, but the Democrats will ask their own questions of Kavanaugh and Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly assaulting her when they were both teenagers. (Kavanaugh has strenuously denied all allegations.) Both Kavanaugh and Ford will testify under oath.
The GOP has repeatedly criticized the first round of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings as a “circus” (Grassley) and “political sideshow” (Mitch McConnell), and are framing Mitchell’s appointment as a return to decorum during a politically fraught confirmation process. Mitchell’s name was not immediately released, but GOP leaders teased her appointment to reporters earlier Tuesday—McConnell referred to her as a “female assistant”—while blaming the tenor of the first round hearings on the Democrats.
“We have done it because we want to depoliticize the whole process like the Democrats politicized the Anita Hill thing,” Grassley said, according to CNN. “The whole purpose is to create an environment where it is what Dr. Ford has asked for—it be professional and not be a circus. That’s what we’re up to.”
GOP Sen. Bob Corker, who isn’t on the Judiciary Committee, hit perhaps a bit closer to the truth: The Republicans just don’t trust themselves to not “inadvertently” say something heinous during the proceedings.
“Inadvertently somebody will do something that’s insensitive,” he said, per the Washington Post. “I would not be wanting to ask questions about something like this.”
“Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7,” he added to reporters, according to CNN.
Republicans have likely been toying with this idea for at least a week, when it was reported that the all-male cast of Republican senators might resort to having female aides ask their questions for them.
Mitchell is the sex crimes bureau chief for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Arizona, the same county that was infamously ruled by Joe Arpaio until he was forced out of office last year. But as the Washington Post reported, she’s apparently good at her job:
Tracy Westerhausen, a Phoenix defense attorney who has gone up against Mitchell in 30 cases, over more than 20 years, said she has developed a close friendship with Mitchell over their time on opposite sides of the courtroom.
“Part of the reason we’re very good friends, she is a very nuanced and wise prosecutor,” she said. “She doesn’t pigeon-hole defendants. In my experience, she is a very pointed questioner of adverse witnesses. But she is also very fair.”
Westerhausen, who called herself a lifelong Democrat, said she has never discussed politics with Mitchell but considers her a good choice for the high-stakes job. “As an American, it would make me more comfortable to see her selected. I really do think that she’s a very professional person, who is out to make sure the right thing is done,” Westerhausen said.
Lawyers for Ford, however, were resistant to letting their client face the Republicans’ handpicked outside counsel on the stand.
“This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate,” Michael Bromwich, an attorney for Ford, wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.“The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case.”
It seems like the GOP strategy is to get through the Thursday hearing without committing any major unforced errors and then rush into a vote. On Tuesday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation for 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning, the earliest possible slot after the hearing ends.