The U.S. Senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee are not the only people who are questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as she offers personal testimony accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of groping her in the 1980s without her consent.
Some people are wondering: Who is the woman questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford? She is not a Senator. She is Rachel Mitchell, a veteran sex crimes prosecutor from Maricopa County, Arizona, who was chosen for the role by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Critics have accused the GOP Senators on the Committee of choosing Mitchell to do the questioning to avoid the bad optics of having an all-male panel quizzing Blasey Ford. The California professor’s lawyers had objected to an outside counsel conducting the questioning, but the Judiciary Committee went ahead and selected Rachel Mitchell for that role.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed that Republicans on the Committee had asked Mitchell to “question the witnesses scheduled to testify on Thursday at the committee’s continuation of its hearing to consider the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the United States Supreme Court.”
Mitchell is an award-winning sex crimes prosecutor in Arizona, although her position in Maricopa County has caused some criticism online due to a rape kit backlog and the proximity to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office once led by Donald Trump-backing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That’s a different agency, though. Rachel Mitchell works for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, not the Sheriff’s office there.
Here’s what you need to know:
Grassley Called Rachel Mitchell a Career Prosecutor With Decades of Experience
In his statement, Chuck Grassley praised Rachel Mitchell’s several decades-long career as a prosecutor. Grassley said that Mitchell has “decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes,” calling her a “career prosecutor.”
He added, “As I have said, I’m committed to providing a forum to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday that is safe, comfortable and dignified. 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 witnesses at Thursday’s hearing.”
Grassley gave another motive for asking Mitchell to lead the questioning. “The goal is to de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns,” Grassley said.
“I’m very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role. Ms. Mitchell has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity. I’ve worked to give Dr. Ford an opportunity to share serious allegations with committee members in any format she’d like after learning of the allegations. I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power to avoid a repeat of the ‘circus’ atmosphere in the hearing room that we saw the week of September 4. I’ve taken this additional step to have questions asked by expert staff counsel to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible.”
However, Ford’s attorneys have repeatedly objected to the Senate Judiciary Committee using an outside lawyer to question Ford. Michael Bromwich, an attorney for Ford, said previously in a statement, “This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate. Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial. The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case.”
Rachel Mitchell Is on Leave From the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, Arizona
Rachel Mitchell is a prosecutor from Arizona, but she’s now on leave from the County Attorney’s Office there, where she has led a sex crimes and family violence unit.
“Mitchell worked in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix as the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence,” reported 12News.
CNN reported that Mitchell is currently on leave from her position as “the deputy county attorney and as the chief of the Special Victims Division” in Maricopa County.
Mitchell was pictured in the County attorney’s newsletter as part of a team that won an award, and a post on Twitter indicates she spoke at a conference about medical findings in child sex abuse cases.
“Operation Safe Treat is a partnership between the MCAO, US Marshal’s Office, several local police departments and the Maricopa County Probation Department which sends teams of officers out to the community in the weeks leading up to and on Halloween checking on registered sex offenders to ensure they are following the rules,” the caption with the photo in the County Attorney’s newsletter read.
In 2014, a commission recommended her as a possible judicial candidate in Arizona.
Rachel Mitchell Is a Registered Republican Who Was Drawn to Her Prosecution Area Because of the Vulnerability of Children
Rachel Mitchell is a registered Republican, according to the Washington Post, which reports that she’s worked in the Maricopa County office for 26 years.
She has donated to the campaign of Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s Republican attorney general, according to The Post.
Tracey Westerhausen, a Democratic defense attorney in Arizona, praised Rachel Mitchell to The Post, calling her a “very nuanced and wise prosecutor.” She has been a team member responsible for developing sexual assault prosecutor protocols for the Maricopa County office.
In 2012, Mitchell told FrontLine how she first started prosecuting sex crimes against children, saying:
Actually it was nothing that I intended to go into. I was waiting for bar exam results working as a law clerk in the Office. I was paired up with a senior attorney, actually the former Bureau Chief of Sex Crimes, who was working a case that involved a youth choir director as the offender. 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.
She explained to FrontLine how child sex abuse cases often differ from others, saying that whereas “a lot of crimes involve individuals acting out of very basic urges such as greed or even desperation, as in the case of addictions,” child sexual offenders “are typically very manipulative. Children are picked out because they are vulnerable.”