GOP senator: Kavanaugh hearing format 'not great,' but 'we're stuck with it'

Chris Wattie  Reuters

A sex-crimes prosecutor tapped by Senate Republicans to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh about allegations of sexual assault could have a tough time in such a contentious political environment, Arizona attorneys who know her said Wednesday.

In an interview published in 2012 in FrontLine Magazine, the magazine for conservative Christian group Foundations Baptist Fellowship global, Mitchell said she was drawn to fighting sex crimes against children after working with a senior attorney who was assigned a case where the offender was a youth choir director.

Mitchell, a Republican, was expected to question Kavanaugh and the first woman to accuse him of sexual misconduct at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday.

Analysts said the Republicans had been harmed by Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor brought in by the all-male GOP members of the Senate panel to question Ford.

Mitchell is chief of the Special Victims Division in the Maricopa County attorney's office in Phoenix. Her old boss, former county attorney Rick Romley, describes her as a stellar prosecutor who he entrusted with some of the most high-profile cases and someone who knows the dynamics of sexual assault.

That's an incredible amount of pressure to put on a person who has no known experience testifying, who is telling her most painful memories, and who is subjecting herself to public disbelief and ridicule. "As an American, it would make me more comfortable to see her selected".

"So many women around the country were watching it together in rooms and texting one another about what they were seeing, identifying with her", said Donegan said. In my career, I have cross-examined dozens of women who had made allegations against my clients similar to what Blasey Ford said happened to her.

Before the Senate hearing on Thursday, Ford had never appeared on camera, and was only depicted in news media reports with a grainy photo lifted from the internet. Kavanaugh, getting choked up at times, angrily denied the accusation and denounced the process as "a national disgrace". And millions of sex-crime victims - men and women - were hoping she could give them a voice.

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.

Asked how he believed Ford had done in the morning session of her testimony, Utah Republican Sen. But her career at the Maricopa County attorney's office has not been without controversy: The office was criticized in 2011 when a former Jehovah's Witness elder who admitted to sexually abusing a teenage boy several times was only forced to spend six months in county jail. Someone who was doing what she believed to be the right thing. "This is a different setting".

Mitchell was part of the team of prosecutors who pressed cases against Catholic priests in a sex abuse scandal about 15 years ago in Phoenix.

"She's been a longtime sex crimes prosecutor".

Mitchell has helped train psychologists, medical professionals, forensic interviewers and detectives in sex-crimes issues.

Montgomery said he didn't talk with anyone in Washington about picking Mitchell for the job before that.

She has been named Arizona's Outstanding Sexual Assault Prosecutor as well as Maricopa County Attorney's Office Prosecutor of the Year.

Mitchell has not responded to requests for comment sent through the county attorney's main office. "She has had to make a decision as a prosecutor whether or not those cases can move forward."Senate Judiciary Committee staff contacted Montgomery over the weekend asking about her experience, and Montgomery encouraged the staff and Mitchell to communicate directly, he said". In an interview earlier this year on a local NPR radio station, Mitchell talked about the nuts-and-bolts of the office's adoption of a new sex crimes protocol, the first in office history, meant to improve the investigation and prosecution of cases. It will ensure prosecutors have a guide "so that we can do the best we can for victims", Mitchell told a local NPR station in January.

Tasha Menaker of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual Violence said she worked with Mitchell for three years on the protocol and found her to be "very experienced, intelligent, detail oriented and very straightforward".

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