Published 10:51 PM EDT Sep 25, 2018
Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona sex crimes prosecutor, has been chosen to lead questioning for Republicans during the potentially explosive hearing involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman accusing him of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the announcement late Tuesday after a report in the Washington Post identified Mitchell as a top contender for the role.
"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 said in a statement. "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. I’m very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role."
Mitchell will take the lead for Republicans in questioning Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday about her allegations that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes at a party in the early 1980s when she was 15 and he was 17. Democrats still intend to ask questions of Ford.
The use of a sex crime prosecutor to question Ford will save the panel's 11 Republican men from the optics of questioning a woman who has alleged sexual assault.
More: Tensions rise as Senate hearing nears on sexual assault accusations
More: Kavanaugh allegations: ‘What boy hasn’t done this in high school?’
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Mitchell's boss, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Montgomery's office could not immediately confirm the report.
In Arizona, others in law enforcement circles were unaware of Mitchell's possible involvement but spoke highly of her.
"She’s been a longtime sex crimes prosecutor. She’s clearly competent," said Rick Romley, a former Maricopa County attorney.
Paul Ahler, who worked at the County Attorney's Office years ago, described Mitchell as a "really good, solid prosecutor."
"She’s one of these career prosecutors who specializes in sex crimes," said Ahler, who now works at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. "It’s hard to find those people because a lot of people get burned out on those issues, but it’s kind of been her life mission."
In 2014, then-Gov. Jan Brewer recommended Mitchell for consideration as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.
Much of Mitchell's career has been focused on providing justice to victims of sex crimes. Her work includes cases ranging from child molestation to computer crimes against children.
Earlier this year, Mitchell talked with KJZZ-FM (91.5) in Phoenix about a new protocol manual that the County Attorney’s Office introduced to Arizona as best practices to ensure justice for victims.
More: Second woman accuses Kavanaugh of sexual assault
During that January interview, Mitchell said the new protocols would outline the best way to handle investigations into sexual assaults "so we can do the best we can for victims."
Mitchell has trained others on how to make effective use of children who are victims of abuse.
She has also headed the Major Crimes Bureau, where she supervised sex crimes, family violence, and repeat-offender cases.
In 2003, she was recognized as Arizona's outstanding sexual-assault prosecutor. In 2006, she was the County Attorney’s Office's Prosecutor of the Year.
Republicans have been searching for days to find a woman to handle Thursday's much-anticipated hearing, which could impact the confirmation prospects of a nominee who could shape the high court's ideology for decades.
All 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee – including U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona – are men, a fact that many see as an optics problem for the GOP, which is trying to salvage Kavanaugh's nomination without being seen as trammeling his accuser.
Thursday's hearing comes as the November elections are looming and Republicans see an opportunity to cement control of the court at risk if Democrats retake the Senate.
Christal Hayes and Eliza Collins of USA TODAY contributed to this report.