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 CornynGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Mnuchin warns US could hit debt limit in early September | Acosta out as Labor chief | Trump pitches trade deal in Wisconsin | FTC reportedly settles with Facebook for B fine 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 KaineAcosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation Republican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' Schumer calls on Acosta to step down over Epstein MORE (D-Va.) highlighted Ford's answer to Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip Democrats want investigation into cost, legality of Trump's July Fourth event 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 shares Graham quote calling Ocasio-Cortez 'anti-America' Graham: Trump should focus on policy, not personal attacks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke 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 to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (Utah), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act exposes Silicon Valley's hollow diversity slogans Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure MORE (Utah), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAcosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers Some good advice for Democrats to ignore in 2020 Swing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike MORE (Neb.) and Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt Senate Finance leaders in talks on deal to limit drug price increases 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 BhararaBernie Sanders says he would move to 'rotate' Supreme Court justices if elected Debate crowd breaks into laughter after hot mic snafu Preet Bharara: Barr's excuse for not testifying to House 'rhymes with snitty' 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.