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The woman chosen by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser will be in an unusual position when she goes face-to-face with Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Tuesday that he had hired Rachel Mitchell, an outside attorney to question Kavanaugh and Ford, on behalf of the 11 male Republicans on the committee — despite Ford's wishes to be questioned by the senators themselves about her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.
Democrats excoriated the move.
"It is going against everything I’ve seen for 44 years," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who serves on the Judiciary Committee. "They’re not following normal procedure."
But Grassley, referring to Mitchell as an "experienced career sex-crimes prosecutor," Grassley said the goal of bringing her in was to "de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns."
Mitchell has served as a prosecutor since 1993 and is deputy county attorney in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix and the division chief of the Special Victims Division, which comprises sex-crimes and family-violence bureaus. She is currently on leave from her positions.
Her most notable case was in 2005, when Mitchell went up against the Rev. Paul LeBrun, a former Roman Catholic priest transferred to Arizona who had been accused of molesting boys in the 1980s and 1990s, and four other boys in his former parish in Indiana before that.
Mitchell — who only 10 months earlier had been chosen to replace her boss as the head of the sex crimes unit at the Maricopa County Attorney's office in a surprise shake-up — had little recourse with the crimes in Indiana, as the statute of limitations had expired. But Mitchell managed to convince a judge that two of his accusers from Indiana should be allowed to testify, pointing out that their testimonies would speak to LeBrun's capacity for sexual abuse.
The judge ruled in her favor, and LeBrun was eventually convicted of abusing the boys in his Arizona parishes and sentenced to 111 years in prison. The case was celebrated as a significant victory on Mitchell's part.
In an interview in 2012 in FrontLine, the magazine for the conservative Christian group Foundations Baptist Fellowship international, 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.
"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," she told the magazine.
She also played a role in cleaning up controversy in her own office that happened under then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, when the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office experienced a backlog of hundreds of sex crimes reported from 2005 to 2007 that weren't investigated properly.
The former boss whom she replaced in 2005, Cindi Nannetti, told The Washington Post that Mitchell was one of the prosecutors who sifted through the cases to figure out which ones could still be tried.
Nannetti also told the Post — which first broke the news that Mitchell had been selected by the GOP to head the testimony — that Mitchell later held training sessions for the sheriff's office in the hopes of preventing a similar backlog in the future.
Mitchell is a registered Republican who has lectured across the U.S. about sexual assault investigations. 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 forced to spend only six months in county jail.
And in 2003, her office was slammed after it declined to prosecute the husband of a quadriplegic woman who accused him of domestic abuse. At the time, Mitchell told the Phoenix New Times that she questioned the woman's credibility after she denied being abused and then said she had after she filed for divorce.
In a statement, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery quelled doubts over whether Mitchell was the right person for Thursday's hearing.
"The American people can be confident that Rachel Mitchell’s experience as a conscientious prosecutor, trained to seek justice, protect victims, and pursue truth will assist the Senate Judiciary Committee in performing its important task," he said.