Who Is the Prosecutor Grilling Christine Blasey Ford?
By Adam Gabbatt
September 27, 2018
In a highly unusual move, the Arizona sex crimes prosecutor will be interviewing Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers on behalf of the Republican party
|Rachel Mitchell has been prosecuting sex crimes for decades. Photograph: Jack Kurtz/AP|
When Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, testifies before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, she won’t be interviewed by Republican senators.
Instead, Rachel Mitchell, a female prosecutor from Arizona whose “life mission” has been to investigate sex crimes, is interviewing Ford on behalf of the Republican party.
The bringing in of Mitchell is unusual. Democratic senators on the committee plan to quiz Ford and Kavanaugh – who will also testify on Thursday – themselves.
But each of the 11 Republicans on the committee is male, and there was said to be an awareness that having 11 men grill a woman who says she was a victim of sexual assault might not be a good idea.
Hence the introduction of Mitchell, whose role was announced by Chuck Grassley, the senator from Iowa and chair of the judiciary committee, on Friday. Mitchell has “been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity”, Grassley said – recognition that will now come under intense scrutiny when she faces Ford.
Few could argue with Grassley’s claim that Mitchell, a registered Republican, boasts a wealth of experience. She studied law at Arizona State University, passing the bar in 1992, and since 1993 has worked as a prosecutor. Mitchell currently serves as Maricopa county’s deputy county attorney and chief of the special victims division, which handles sex crimes and family violence.
Ford, a California-based university professor, alleges that in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a house party, groped her and attempted to remove her clothes, while putting his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams.
Mitchell should be well placed to understand both the details of Ford’s claim and the length of time it has taken her to come forward.
In an interview with Frontline magazine in 2011, Mitchell was asked about some of the “common misconceptions” about sexual offenses against children.
“First, I would say the largest misconception is that ‘stranger danger’ is the rule rather than the fairly rare exception. About 90–95% of victims know the person who is offending against them,” Mitchell said.
“Second, a very common misconception relates to when and how children tell. 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 […]
“Third, there is a perception that this happens in secret, but the reality is that it frequently happens with others present in the same house and often in the same room.”
Mitchell spent 12 years running the Maricopa county division responsible for prosecuting sex crimes. Her most prominent case – to date – came in 2005, when she prosecuted the Rev Paul LeBrun, a former Catholic priest accused of molesting six boys in Arizona during the 1980s and 1990s. LeBrun was found guilty and sentenced to 111 years in prison.
Looking back on her career in 2011, Mitchell told Frontline she had been drawn to prosecuting sex crimes after working as a law clerk for a senior attorney on a case involving a youth choir director having committed an offense.
“It intrigued me,” Mitchell said. “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.”
Former colleagues have lined up to praise Mitchell in the past two days, even as Democrats have criticized Republican members of the judiciary committee for appointing an outside individual to conduct the questioning. Patrick Leahy, a Democratic member of the committee, said the appointment “is going against everything I’ve seen for 44 years”, while Blumenthal wondered why Republicans were “hiding from their roles as members of the judiciary committee”.
But Cindi Nannetti, Mitchell’s former supervisor, told the Arizona Republic that Mitchell would not pander to the Republicans who appointed her.
“Her bottom line is justice,” Nannetti said. “She’s super smart. I just don’t think she’ll be bullied by anyone. She just doesn’t look at anything politically.”