CAPITOL HILL - Senate Republicans have hired an Arizona prosecutor to question a woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
A press release from committee chairman Chuck Grassley's office described woman attorney Rachel Mitchell as "a career prosecutor with decades of experience prosecuting sex crimes." Mitchell worked in the Maricopa County Attorney's office in Phoenix as the chief of the Special Victims Division, which covers sex crimes and family violence.
Republicans have been keen to hire a woman to question Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her when both were teenagers, to avoid the appearance of bias by the all-male group of Republicans on the Senate panel.
The U.S. Senate’s partisan brawl over President Donald Trump’s embattled Supreme Court nominee intensified Tuesday, fewer than 48 hours before Judge Kavanaugh and Ford were expected to give contradictory testimony on the alleged incident.
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Democrats of rushing to convict Kavanaugh and “destroy his good name” with unproven allegations, abandoning any presumption of innocence -- a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence.
“Justice matters. Evidence matters. Facts matter,” McConnell said. “This is America here. ... Everyone deserves better than this, not just Judge Kavanaugh.”
Senate Democrats countered that, if Republicans wanted to learn the facts about the nominee’s past behavior, they would not have rejected calls for an FBI investigation of the allegations against him.
Democrats also accused Republicans of treating Ford dismissively at a time when victims of sexual crimes are speaking out across the nation. Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party in the 1980s, a charge the nominee has repeatedly denied.
“Labeling this a partisan smear job demeans not only the senators in my caucus,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “It demeans many, many women who have come forward … to share their stories.”
Schumer added, “Leader McConnell should rethink what he said in the heat of the moment and apologize to Dr. Ford.”
The sharp exchanges on the Senate floor came one day after Kavanaugh appeared on U.S. cable television -- an unprecedented move for a Supreme Court nominee -- to refute all allegations of sexual misconduct.
"I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. Not in high school. Not ever," Kavanaugh told Fox News, adding that he has no intention of bowing out of the nomination.
In New York, President Trump accused Democrats of mounting “a con game” and heaped scorn on a second accusation leveled against Kavanaugh, that he exposed himself at a college party decades ago.
The new allegation by Deborah Ramirez, reported Sunday by The New Yorker magazine, prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, to call for a postponement of Thursday’s highly anticipated hearing where Kavanaugh and Ford are to testify.
Ramirez's lawyer told NBC's Today Show that she is willing to testify publically to Congress.
Republicans have rejected any further delays in the confirmation process. Instead, they scheduled a judiciary committee vote for Friday, which will be followed by consideration by the full Senate.
Kavanaugh, a judicial conservative and Trump’s second Supreme Court pick, was nominated to fill the vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement.
His confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate had seemed all but assured until allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced nearly two weeks ago.