Senate Republicans are bringing in Arizona sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Mitchell, a Republican, has been a prosecutor since 1993, and leads the Special Victims Division in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix – where she would have worked with the county’s controversial sheriff, Joe Arapaio, until he was voted out of office last year.
She supervises attorneys who handle cases involving child molestation, sexual assault and computer crimes against children in Arizona’s most populous county.
Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh drunkenly attempted to rape her when they were teenagers has predictably raised a political storm in the #MeToo era, and Mitchell was hired in part due to Republican concerns about the optics of having the all-male GOP members of the committee grilling the female accuser.
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch is the panel’s oldest member at 84, while Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is the youngest Republican on the committee at 46.
Ford’s attorney’s have repeatedly objected to an outside counsel, however, insisting that the senators themselves must conduct the questioning.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have blasted the move to hire an outside counsel, with a spokesperson for ranking member Dianne Feinstein telling DailyMail.com that it would ‘create a trial-like atmosphere’ in the hearing.
As a prosecutor in Maricopa County, Mitchell would have worked closely with Arpaio, who was pardoned by President Donald Trump last year for ignoring a court order to cease ’rounding up’ people suspected of immigration violations.
The county prosecutor’s office is separate from the sheriff’s office, however. In 2011, Mitchell was tasked to a unit that investigated why hundreds of sex crimes had gone unresolved or were not adequately investigated by the sheriff’s office.
The crimes dated from 2007 back to 2005, the year that Mitchell was first appointed as head of the Special Victims Division in a controversial shakeup.
A 2016 audit also found some 4,000 untested rape kits in Maricopa County, a backlog that investigators are currently working through. Advocates blame a lack of funding for the backlog, and say that it is police, not prosecutors, who are typically responsibly for testing rape kits.
Mitchell, who has decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes, ‘has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity,’ committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in a statement Tuesday.
‘I’m committed to providing a forum to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday that is safe, comfortable and dignified,’ Grassley said.
Prior to the announcement of Mitchell’s hiring, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised eyebrows by referring to her as ‘female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions’.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Mitchell’s boss, praised her experience in an interview with the Arizona Republic, calling her an ‘objective prosecutor’ who has a ‘caring heart’ for victims.
He said he was contacted by staff members of the Judiciary Committee over the weekend about Mitchell’s qualifications.
Prior to leading Maricopa County’s Special Victim’s Division, Mitchell spent 12 years running the bureau in the Division responsible for the prosecution of sex-related felonies, including child molestation, adult sexual assault, cold cases, child prostitution and computer-related sexual offenses.
The Division’s other bureau specializes in family violence. Mitchell is currently on leave from her job in Maricopa County, according to Grassley’s statement.
Mitchell has won several awards, including being named Outstanding Arizona Sexual Assault Prosecutor of the Year by Governor Janet Napolitano in 2003, and the 2006 award for Outstanding Child Abuse Legal Professional Award for Excellence from the Arizona Children’s Justice Task Force.
In a 2012 interview with FrontLine, Mitchell explained that she had never planned to become a sex crimes prosecutor until, while working as a law clerk, she assisted in the prosecution of a youth choir director accused of abuse.
‘It struck me how innocent and vulnerable the victims of these cases really were. When I became an attorney with the office I prosecuted other kinds of cases, but I was drawn back to this area,’ Mitchell said.
Mitchell also spoke about the frequent reluctance of young sexual assault victims to come forward – a topic that will surely be raised on Thursday given Ford’s 36 years of silence about the assault that she alleges took place when she and Kavanaugh were both in high school.
‘People think that children would tell right away and that they would tell everything that happened to them. In reality children often keep this secret for years, sometimes into their adulthood, sometimes forever,’ Mitchell said.
‘And they may or they may not tell everything. They may partially disclose to see how people are going to react to them. ‘I’ll tell you the least embarrassing thing first, and I’m going to see whether you are going to get mad at me or whether you are going to help me. Then if I get a positive response, I may tell some more,” the veteran prosecutor continued.
She also said that the ‘largest misconception’ about sexual offenses is ‘that ‘stranger danger’ is the rule rather than the fairly rare exception’, adding that ‘about 90-95 per cent’ of victims know the offender.
In July 2014, Mitchell prosecuted a former church volunteer in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale who molested children in his care as a church baby sitter and camp counselor over a seven-year period. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison with lifetime probation.
‘People want to go to a church on a Sunday and feel safe,’ Mitchell said at the time, adding that the settings of his actions ‘should be taken into account.’
In 2015, Mitchell prosecuted a 13-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department who groped two women, one of whom had passed out.
Her tenure in Maricopa County has not been entirely without controversy, however.
In 2003, Mitchell declined to prosecute a husband accused of beating and neglecting his quadriplegic wife, the Phoenix New Times reported. The prosecutor said that the woman had changed her story and that there was not enough proof to bring the case to trial.
In 2011, Mitchell’s office drew criticism by proffering a plea deal for six months in prison to a Jehova’s Witness elder who had admitted to sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1990s.
The victim came forward some 30 years after the abuse occurred – but Mitchell said that it was difficult to be sure what age the victim had been when he was abused, which can dramatically affect sentencing guidelines.
Mitchell said that specific memories that can date a claim – so-called ‘time anchors’ – are crucial in assessing decades-old claims.
”It’s not uncommon for victims, especially teenage male victims, to tell you, ‘I was this age when it happened,” she told the New Times. ‘Then, when you get ‘time anchors’ from them, you find out they were actually older.’
Mitchell continued: ‘It’s a normal thing to do where you have a coping mechanism [in which]they imagine that they were younger, because, ‘If I were older I wouldn’t have let it happen.”
However, Mitchell has also brought other successful prosecutions against sex offenders even though decades had passed since the the crimes.
In 2005, she won a conviction against former Catholic priest Paul LeBrun, who had been accused of molesting six boys between the ages of 11 and 13 in the 1980s and early 90s. LeBrun was sentenced to 111 years in prison.
Last year, the county attorney’s office introduced a sex crimes protocol – the first in its history.
The new policy manual will ensure that prosecutors have a guide ‘so that we can do the best we can for victims,’ Mitchell told a local NPR station.
‘It’s always hard to know which victims were not victims or which people were not victims because your system worked,’ Mitchell said in a January interview with Phoenix radio station KJZZ.