Career prosecutor brings wild-card element to Kavanaugh hearing

Rachel Mitchell, who was tapped to question Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford about her allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school, has never been involved in such a high-profile case or faced the glare of the national media.

One aspect of her background that could be key: Mitchell, who runs the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, championed a manual for local prosecutors that recommends questioning victims of sexual assault with a “neutral, fact finding attitude,” placing the “best interest of the victim” first.

.. But by choosing an unknown for the task, Republicans have taken a risk — gambling that Mitchell finds a way, in her first turn on the national stage, to successfully deliver tough but empathetic questions.

If Mitchell turns out to be the fair and evenhanded questioner that Republicans said they want, there could be dangers for the embattled nominee: What if Ford appears credible in the face of such questioning? What if Kavanaugh struggles?

“There’s no telling what’s going to happen here,” said Nick Ackerman, who served as an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal. “If she does what she normally does and she’s legitimate and is good at this because she’s been doing this for a long time, [Republicans] could find themselves in a major pickle.”

.. The hearing also carries risks for the committee’s 10 Democrats, a group that includes several aspiring presidential candidates. Any political showboating could contrast poorly with the calm delivery of a professional prosecutor, experts said.

.. Colleagues who have faced her in court praised Mitchell as having an empathetic, professional questioning style.

.. “She was prepared. She was thorough. She definitely knew how to do the questions to elicit information that was needed,”

.. Warner said she had never seen Mitchell badger witnesses or treat them with disrespect.

.. Each senator will be given five minutes to ask questions of both Ford and Kavanaugh. But most — if not all — Republican senators are expected to delegate their time to Mitchell.

.. A senior Republican aide said the committee hopes Mitchell will press Ford on the details she has said she cannot remember, including the timeline of events around her allegations about Kavanaugh. They also hope Mitchell will push Ford about when and how she decided to come forward and her interactions with Democratic staffers.

.. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, predicted the outcome of Thursday’s hearing will “largely turn on what sort of tone and approach she takes.”

.. Reaves predicted that neither Republicans nor Democrats would ultimately be pleased with Mitchell.

“She’s going to be so good,” he said, “that both sides are going to have problems with her.”