Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, hired by the Senate Judiciary Committee to handle some of Thursday's questioning, opened with some words of encouragement for Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
“I just wanted to tell you, the first thing that struck me from your statement this morning was that you’re terrified. And I just wanted to let you know I’m very sorry. That’s not right,” Mitchell said, shaking her head.
Mitchell made the remark after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, deferred his allotted five minutes of questioning to the prosecutor.
Just minutes earlier, Ford, a California psychology professor, gave her opening remarks – at times appearing emotional.
“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified,” she said. “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”
Ford has publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were at a house party in the 1980s, both teenagers at the time. She said he held her down on a bed, attempted to forcibly remove her clothes and held his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming.
Kavanaugh has adamantly denied the allegation, saying he has “never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or anyone.”
Both he and Ford are appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing regarding the allegations. The GOP side of the Judiciary Committee made up of 11 men – which could have sent an unwanted message on live television against the backdrop of the #MeToo era – and Mitchell was hired to assist in the questioning.
Mitchell works in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix as chief of the Special Victims Division and deputy county attorney. She is currently on leave.
She spent more than a decade supervising attorneys who handle sex-related crimes, including sexual assault, child molestation and prostitution and computer crimes against children. She was also in charge of a satellite bureau that prosecuted such crimes as well as domestic violence and elder abuse, according to the Judiciary Committee.
She’s been described by her boss, Maricopa Attorney Bill Montgomery, as a “professional, fair, objective prosecutor” and someone who has a “caring heart” for victims.
Kavanaugh has also been publicly accused of sexual misconduct while at parties in high school and college by two other women, but they are not part of the hearing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.