Republicans shift course after outside counsel falters

Republicans shift course after outside counsel falters

Senate Republicans on Thursday abandoned using the outside prosecutor they had hired to question both Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, underscoring what many observers said was a major GOP misstep by relying on the specialist during the first part of the hearing.

“I think the Republicans made a grave error, not necessarily in choosing Mrs. Mitchell, but in having her craft her questioning the way she did," Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News after Ford’s testimony.

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Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona prosecutor who specializes in sex crimes, tried to chip away at Ford’s explosive allegation that a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down to a bed and groped her at a party in the early 1980s when the two of them were high school students in Maryland. She questioned the Palo Alto University professor about the specifics of her account, her mental health and her motives for coming forward.

Senators on both sides of the aisle said Ford came off as a credible in her testimony, an indication that Mitchell may not have been effective from the GOP’s perspective.

“I found no reason to find her not credible,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after Ford’s testimony. “There are obviously gaps in her story. Obviously we know people who are traumatized have those sort of gaps.”

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineMontana Gov. Bullock enters presidential race Bullock hires senior staffers ahead of likely presidential run Senate fails to override Trump's Yemen veto MORE (D-Va.) highlighted Ford's answer to Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon Key Republican 'convinced' Iran threats are credible Graham, Leahy request briefing on decision to yank personnel from Iraq MORE's question about what her strongest memory was of the alleged incident.

Ford told Leahy that she remembers Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, laughing.

Kaine said that detail matches an aspect of the sexual assault allegations brought by Deborah Ramirez against Kavanaugh.

"If you think about the story of Dr. Ford and Deborah Ramirez’s story ... the elements of drinking, multiple men in the room and assaulting somebody while you’re laughing at them -- that is the element that is present in both of these stories of these very different people, in different places at different times," he said.

"It’s almost like this was abusing a woman to impress the other guys around and that similarity in both of these stories is a very powerful kind of corroboration," Kaine added.

But when it was Kavanaugh’s turn in the hot seat, several Republican senators sidelined Mitchell, and in doing so changed the tone of the hearing.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran Trump: Anonymous news sources are 'bulls---' Trump: 'Good chance' Dems give immigration 'win' after Pelosi called White House plan 'dead on arrival' MORE (R-S.C.) was the first GOP committee member to address Kavanaugh directly. He also raised his voice to blast Democrats, saying they held onto Ford’s sexual assault allegation until the committee was about to vote on his confirmation.

“Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it,” he said, turning red while pointing his finger angrily at Democratic members. “I hope the American people can see through this sham -- that you knew about it and you held it.”

Several other Republican members followed suit, including Cornyn and Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Congress can expand paid leave and help workers save with bipartisan support MORE (Utah), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order to protect US networks from Chinese tech | Huawei downplays order | Trump declines to join effort against online extremism | Facebook restricts livestreaming | FCC proposes new tool against robocalls Huawei officials say they would 'welcome' US ban on tech posing national security risk MORE (Neb.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTrump, Senate GOP discuss effort to overhaul legal immigration Dems propose fining credit agencies for data breaches Mueller fails to break stalemate on election meddling crackdown MORE (Idaho).

When asked later why he posed his own questions instead of deferring to Mitchell, Graham said, “I was ready to have my two sense worth about how this process has been handled.”

Even Mitchell appeared to question her own effectiveness, asking if Ford had educated herself on the best way to get to memory and the truth in terms of interviewing victims of trauma.

Ford said she didn’t understand the question and asked, “For me interviewing victims of trauma?”

Mitchell explained she was asking Ford if she knows what the best practices are for interviewing victims of trauma. Ford said no.

“Would you believe me if I told you that there’s no study that says that this setting, in five-minute increments, is the best way to do that?” she asked Ford at the end.

Her line of questioning was mocked by some legal experts.

“Mitchell ends by essentially saying this whole proceeding is crap. Strong finish,” former U.S. Attorney Preet BhararaPreetinder (Preet) Singh BhararaPreet Bharara: Barr's excuse for not testifying to House 'rhymes with snitty' Bharara: 'Donald Trump is not out of legal jeopardy' Bharara: 'Doesn't seem' Mueller's investigation 'ending any time soon' MORE tweeted.

Others on social media suggested that Mitchell may have helped Ford’s case.

“Let me revise my point. It was the better of bad choices to bring Mitchell in to do the questioning,” tweeted David Axelrod, a CNN senior political commentator who was a senior adviser to former President Obama. “But in many ways, she has unwittingly made Ford a MORE credible and sympathetic witness.”

Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney who now teaches at the University of California in both San Diego and Los Angeles, said he didn’t think Mitchell’s questioning worked, partly because the format of the hearing allowed Democrats to interrupt every five minutes with broad re-assertions of her allegations.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, per se, for someone to be asking questions on the committee’s behalf, but having one side doing it comes off as partisan,” he said.

During a break Thursday afternoon, Graham told reporters that Mitchell was doing fine.

“You got an emotional allegation, you got an emotional defense so you got to figure out what’s credible,” he said before Kavanaugh’s testimony began. “The burden of proof is not on the man being accused or the woman being accused. So what I’m looking for is: Do I know any more about detail than I knew before?”

Graham said he thought something happened to Ford somewhere in her life, but he's not sure it happened somewhere in Maryland in the summer of 1982.

"And I think it’ll be very clear here in a few minutes that the people named don’t corroborate it," he added.

Some people thought Mitchell was tougher on Kavanaugh than on Ford. Mitchell questioned him about his drinking habits and sexual behavior.

“What do you consider to be too many beers?” she asked.

Kavanaugh said he didn’t know.

“Whatever the chart says,” he responded.

She also asked if he ever woke up in high school after drinking with his clothes in a different condition or fewer clothes on than when he went to sleep or passed out.

"No," Kavanaugh said.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham said on Twitter that whoever recommended Mitchell should be fired.

“The prosecutor Mitchell is being tougher on Judge Kavanaugh than she was on Dr Ford. Whoever recommended her shd never work in GOP politics again,” she tweeted.

She also said: “Don’t let that Mitchell woman back -- she was not at all effective. This is a performance not a legal seminar.”

Jordain Carney contributed.