She was friendly, frumpy and the opposite of threatening. She spoke with warmth and empathy, like your favorite high school English teacher, or that aunt who lives on the farm in Iowa—the one who’s always ready to give you a big hug, a glass of milk and a plate of homemade cookies.
But, oh, what a poisonous batch it turned out to be!
Yes, I’m talking about Rachel Mitchell, and the gentle, folksy way she questioned Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading to her five-page report on Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
And guess what? Mitchell, the matronly sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, was not so nice to Ford after all. In her report, she essentially called Ford meritless, casting her as either a liar or a delusional nut.
To me, there was something distinctly female about the way Mitchell set up her attack on Ford: Act sweet to the girl you’re out to get, but stab her later with vicious gossip, alienation and other forms of bullying.
It’s worth remembering that she started her questioning of Ford with these reassuring words: ”I just wanted to tell you the first thing that struck me from your statement this morning was that you were terrified. I just wanted to let you know, I’m very sorry. That’s not right. I know this is stressful.”
But Mitchell was significantly less understanding in her report. She wrote: “In the legal context, here is my bottom line: A “he said, she said” case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that. Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them.”
Mitchell’s report is spurious for a number of reasons, starting with her conspicuous omission of Kavanaugh’s testimony and his numerous credibility lapses. She poked holes at Ford’s testimony—which she should—but not at Kavanaugh’s. I won’t dive into her report because there are already plenty of critiques out there, including one by a former prosecutor who trained under her.
I know that using a woman to undermine another woman is the oldest trick in the book (it seems most men accused of sexual harassment or worse are represented by female lawyers), but I find Mitchell’s approach extra nauseating. I would have been fine if she played the tough defense lawyer, out to make mincemeat out of Ford. Instead, she pretended to be the caring buddy, the giggly girlfriend, as if she and Ford were old school chums on a journey for truth. What a vivid display of female hypocrisy.
I know, I know—I shouldn’t be so hard on Mitchell because she was just doing her job, which was to trash Ford. It was understood that her role was to shield those 11 male Republicans who didn’t want to risk coming off as awkward sexist pigs by questioning an alleged victim themselves. That job required a woman’s touch.
Indeed, Mitchell was the handmaiden who tended to the men’s dirty work. And like a handmaiden (or as Sen. Mitch McConnell called her—aptly, it turns out—before the testimony, “an assistant”), she scampered away quietly when the menfolk no longer needed her. (Sen. Lindsey Graham, later joined by his Republican cohorts, unceremoniously took over her questioning of Kavanaugh, and Mitchell vanished into thin air.)
In the end, those 11 men who hired Mitchell didn’t treat her much with much respect or dignity either.