The voice Thursday of Senate Republicans will be that of an award-winning sex crimes prosecutor, respected by Democrats and Republicans alike for fairness and judgement.
Rachel Mitchell is a deputy Maricopa County attorney and chief of their sex crimes division. In 2003, the state named her “Arizona’s outstanding sexual-assault prosecutor” and Prosecutor of the Year in 2006. She speaks nationally and trains detectives and social workers how to ask sensitive questions of sexual assault victims and those who commit such crimes.
“I would describe her as a poised and pointed cross-examiner,” said Phoenix defense attorney Tracey Westerhausen. “I have never seen her try to attack a witness by becoming super aggressive.”
Westerhausen is a Democrat. She has faced Mitchell, a Republican, as an adversary in more than 30 cases over 20 years. While Thursday’s hearing is as partisan and politically charged as Congress gets, Westerhausen said her friend is all legal – not political – in court.
“My expectation of Rachel and again, I’m speculating because I have not talked to her about this, is she wants to find out the truth,” she said. “She wants to find out the truth in her routine cases. I can’t believe that her mission will change in this extraordinary situation.”
Another collegue, Jerry Cobb, worked with Mitchell for a decade at the county attorney’s office. He calls her a “prosecutor’s prosecutor,” an unabashed advocate for victims, unfazed by the rich or powerful – having convicted cops, doctors, teachers and priests from the Catholic Church in assault and abuse cases.
Democrats have criticized Republicans for using an outside counsel, mocking their colleagues for not having the “chops” to handle the job.
“I think if you are a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you ought to be able to question Dr. Ford yourself and not either hide behind or outsource that to a hired outside counsel,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
But Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said using a trained lawyer allows for less grandstanding by senators with political aspirations.
“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,” he said in a statement. “I’m very appreciative that Rachel Mitchell has stepped forward to serve in this important and serious role. Ms. Mitchell has been recognized in the legal community for her experience and objectivity.”
In terms of format, both Senators Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are expected to offer their opening remarks, followed by motions by Democrats to postpone the hearing. Republicans will refuse, following up an opening statement by Dr. Ford. Mitchell will speak for five minutes for each Republican senator, but will alternate with Democrats.