Orrin Hatch
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Since Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee—who all happen to be male—have not hesitated to imply that she is a liar. For example, Sen. Orrin Hatch referred to the allegations as “character assassination” while Sen. John Cornyn referred to them as “incredible, uncorroborated allegations.”

Now that Dr. Ford has agreed to come before their committee to testify about her experience with Kavanaugh, they’re not so bold.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans said Tuesday that they had hired an outside counsel to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her, at the committee’s hearing on Thursday — though they would not reveal the lawyer’s identity, drawing criticism from Democrats and women’s advocates.

In a letter to a lawyer for Ford on Monday, Mike Davis, who handles nominations for Republicans on the committee — all of whom are men — said that the GOP had hired a woman whom he described as “an experienced sex-crimes prosecutor to serve as an investigative staff counsel for the hearing.”

These guys know that their party is in trouble with women voters and are scared to death that they’ll say something offensive during a public hearing that is sure to garner a lot of attention. One senator actually said the quiet parts out loud.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is not on the committee, said Tuesday it would not be wise for Republican senators to ask questions themselves during the hearing. “Somebody will do something that you guys will run 24/7 and inadvertently somebody will do something that’s insensitive,” he told reporters. “I would not be wanting to ask questions about something like this.”

That’s precisely why they’re going to put a woman up front to do the questioning and assume that a move like that will protect them.

According to the Washington Post, Arizona prosecutor Rachel Mitchell has been hired by the Republicans as the woman who will question both Kavanaugh and Ford.

Mitchell is the chief of the special victims division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which deals with sexual assault cases, among others. A registered Republican, Mitchell has worked for in the county attorney’s office for 26 years.

The details about how this hearing will be handled are still being negotiated. But I find it despicable that these men are willing to impugn Dr. Ford and her motives when it suits their purposes, but don’t have the courage to question her face-to-face.

There is also the issue that the woman who will do the questioning is a sex crimes prosecutor—which could lead to the impression that Dr. Ford is on trial. Victim rights advocates weighed in on that.

In a conference call with reporters arranged by Senate Democrats, sexual assault victim advocates and experts denounced Grassley’s approach to the hearing.

They were especially critical of Grassley’s rejection of Ford’s preference to be questioned by senators and not an outside counsel, as well as his refusal thus far to provide the name of the female sexual assault prosecutor hired to handle questioning.

According to these experts, Grassley also has not heeded Ford’s request that outside sexual violence trauma experts be consulted in advance of the hearing.

“Dr. Ford is not on trial. She is a survivor of sexual assault who has chosen to go public in the national interest,” said Kiersten Stewart, policy director at Futures Without Violence. “We are really dismayed” she said, adding that “survivors all across the country are watching.”

It would have been easy enough for Grassley to consult with these kinds of experts to ensure a reasonable process. But clearly they didn’t do that. It’s a tricky line these Republican men are trying to walk: damage Dr. Ford’s credibility with the least political fallout possible. In the process, they’re showing the world what cowards they are.

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