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May 25, 2019

Experts say Republican approach to questioning Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford falls flat

September 28, 2018
Christine Blasey Ford (C) arrives with her attorney Michael Bromwich (L) to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Republicans wanted to avoid the bad optics of 11 men grilling an alleged sexual assault victim — but their decision to have a seasoned female sex crimes prosecutor do their bidding backfired, experts said.

The format of the hearing Thursday played in Christine Blasey Ford’s favor as Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell was hampered by the time constraints of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proceedings.

Mitchell was considerate and even-keeled as she stood in for the GOPers and peppered Ford with inquiries about her claim that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her nearly three decades ago.

Most experts agreed that Mitchell suffered simply because she was trying to act as a prosecutor in the confines of a political proceeding, not a legal one.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called the line of questioning “strange,” but said he had a good idea of why.

“You have to remember, she is being given almost an hour to question this witness and there isn’t a lot to work with,” Mariotti said. “If Ford was testifying at a trail and I had to cross-examine her I would ask her five questions and sat down. It doesn’t make sense to have long testimony like this for a sexual assault survivor.”

Mitchell started out asking questions about the alleged assault and about when Ford first contacted lawmakers about her allegations. It wasn’t clear where Mitchell was going with her building inquiries, but before she could make a point, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stopped her.

“Ms. Mitchell, I don’t know whether this is fair to interrupt, I want to keep people within five minutes. Is that a major problem for you in the middle of a question?” Grassley asked. “Can I go to Sen. Feinstein?”

And Mitchell then spoke after each Democratic lawmaker on the panel in a whiplash-like manner as she stood in for each of the 11 Republicans.

She hammered Ford on her fear of flying, hanging her questions on reports that Ford didn’t want to come to Washington because she was afraid of getting on a plane. But, Mitchell pointed out, Ford has traveled by plane in the past.

She also asked who had paid for Ford’s legal team and polygraph test, seeming to suggest that Ford be getting paid by outside groups. But the questioning, which appeared to be mounting to some greater implication, never led anywhere, experts noted.

“Unless you have something very significant, what do you ask her? You point out what she doesn’t remember or that she has a bias in some way, I guess, but what else do you do beyond that?” Mariotti added. “There’s no point in carrying it on. A cross examination that should been five minutes turned into 60.”

Prosecutors and psychologists agreed that Ford’s credibility easily withstood the scattered shots fired by Mitchell.

“As a former federal prosecutor who’s interviewed thousands of witnesses Dr. Ford’s testimony rings true,” former assistant U.S. attorney and managing director at Berkeley Research Group told the Daily News. “Not just what she’s saying, but how she’s saying it.”

Esther Choo, an Oregon-based doctor and researcher specializing sexual violence and abuse

Choo said she was struck by how every element of Dr. Ford’s testimony makes her credible.

“It’s consistent with trauma,” Choo said. “There are certain excruciating details that are there very vividly but there are others that fade into the background because that’s what happens when you experience a fight or flight moment.”

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