Republican Senators, who have, in so many ways, said that the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted a woman is irrelevant to his nomination as a Supreme Court justice, have now hired a prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell of the Maricopa County attorney’s office, to represent them during the hearing. In the place of 11 white men, Mitchell will preside, lobbing questions at Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford about the alleged misconduct.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described Mitchell as a “female assistant” who will “ask these questions in a respectful and professional way. We want this hearing to be handled very professionally, not a political sideshow.”
“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,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley said in a statement on Mitchell. “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.”
This is, frankly, bullshit. The process is already deeply political: Republicans, who blocked Barack Obama’s previous Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, have steamrolled Ford and another Kavanaugh accuser, Deborah Ramirez, in order to expedite Kavanaugh’s confirmation process ahead of midterms. Nearly every Republican official or pundit who has spoken up has attempted to discredit or smear Ford, including the president himself. In fact, Republicans have used a shield of women in their smear campaign. In hiring Mitchell, Republicans are shrewdly avoiding the bad optics of 11 old white men asking a woman invasive questions, as happened to Anita Hill nearly three decades ago.
The Washington Post reports that Mitchell is a prosector from Arizona who oversees the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. She is a registered Republican.
Phoenix defense attorney Tracey Westerhausen, a Democrat, considers Mitchell a good friend and vouches for her intergrity. “Part of the reason we’re very good friends, she is a very nuanced and wise prosecutor,” she told the Post. “She doesn’t pigeonhole defendants. In my experience, she is a very pointed questioner of adverse witnesses. But she is also very fair.”
Mitchell may indeed ask Ford more respectful questions than Republicans will. But Republicans still have full control over the conditions of the hearing—they have, for example, refused an independent investigation and to call additional witnesses. More than anything, Mitchell’s presence is about getting Republicans to what they want: Kavanaugh gets confirmed, and Ford becomes a footnote in the story of a great man’s triumph over adversity.