Staff Columnist

Kavanaugh hearing proves U.S. Senate not ready for civility

Grassley's truth-finding plans, special counsel sidelined by partisanship

Rachel Mitchell, counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, questions Christine Blasey Ford as senators Mike Crapo, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and John Cornyn listen during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)
Rachel Mitchell, counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, questions Christine Blasey Ford as senators Mike Crapo, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and John Cornyn listen during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. (Tom Williams/Pool via Reuters)
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The latest round of testimony in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee ended in utter disrespect of one woman — and it wasn’t any of the three who have accused the nominee of sexual misconduct.

Despite adamant protestations by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley that he was leading the hearings and would determine the process, the veteran sex crime prosecutor Grassley brought in “to depoliticize the process and get to the truth” was abruptly sidelined shortly after Kavanaugh was sworn in on Thursday.

“As I have said, I’m committed to providing a forum to both Dr. (Christine Blasey) Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday that is safe, comfortable and dignified. The majority members have followed the bipartisan recommendation to hire as staff counsel for the committee an experienced career sex-crimes prosecutor to question the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing,” Grassley said in a statement released by his office.

Grassley added he was bringing in Rachel Mitchell, a decorated Republican prosecutor, to launch a fact-finding mission “instead of grandstanding and giving senators an opportunity to launch their presidential campaigns.”

But such aspirations of dignity and grandstanding prohibitions apparently applied only to committee Democrats.

The committee first sat down with Ford, who says Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her decades ago when they both were high school students.

Republican members of the committee did not personally cede their allotted time for questions to Mitchell; Grassley granted their time to Mitchell automatically.

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According to Politico, there was early GOP grousing that Mitchell wasn’t doing enough to dent Ford’s credibility, which was stymied by promises the prosecutor would assemble a case Republicans could present the next day during a committee vote on Kavanaugh. By the end of Ford’s testimony, a White House official said GOP lawmakers made a mistake when they hired a woman out of fear of the optics of witness questioning by an unbroken line of older white men.

Trump ally Andrew Napolitano told Fox News viewers, “Mitchell not only is not laying a glove on (Ford), but, in my view, is actually helping her credibility by the gentility with which these questions are being asked and the open-ended answers that the witness is being permitted to give. The president cannot be happy with this.”

In the afternoon, when Kavanaugh offered testimony, Mitchell asked the first two rounds on behalf of Republicans — providing a definition of sexual assault and excessive drinking, both of which Kavanaugh denied. She had begun to walk Kavanaugh through his calendars from the time of the alleged assault, when time expired. Whatever point the prosecutor was working toward probably never will been known because Grassley announced Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would not be ceding his time, and all subsequent GOP lawmakers followed suit.

And, in Graham, White House officials got the fiery, partisan explosion they’d been waiting for.

While professing his unwavering support for the Trump nominee, Graham accused committee Democrats of launching a deliberate smear campaign against Kavanaugh. Despite the fire-and-brimstone pastoral delivery, Ford’s testimony already established she discussed the assault and named Kavanaugh as the perpetrator during therapy sessions in 2012. Nonetheless, Grassley made no move to bring the committee back to order.

As a result, the victim in the alleged assault was questioned by a sex crimes prosecutor. The alleged perpetrator was not.

And, for his part, Kavanaugh took full advantage of the newly injected partisan tone of the hearing, refusing to answer most direct questions from Democratic committee members and engaging sarcastically with others. In one exchange, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Kavanaugh whether he had ever lost his memory from alcohol consumption, the nominee replied, “If you’re asking about a blackout, I don’t know. Have you?” The exchange was followed by a recess, after which Kavanaugh apologized for answering a question with a question.

Kavanaugh said allegations of sexual misconduct were “sprung on me,” and he accused Democrats of some vast coordinated conspiracy against him dating back to his time in the George W. Bush administration. When asked directly, he refused to say whether he would welcome or personally request an FBI investigation into the allegations.

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Perhaps most disappointing, Kavanaugh was never required to rectify the “goody two-shoes” image he painted of his teen self during an exclusive interview with Fox News with documents from his teen years that pointed to far less perfection.

And through it all, according to an NBC News live blog of the hearing, Mitchell was relegated to sitting quietly and taking notes.

No doubt committee Republicans specifically sought a female prosecutor in an attempt to disrupt comparisons of Anita Hill’s testimony during the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. It’s equally probable that Grassley really did want to get to the truth of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. In either case, Senate Republicans did Mitchell no favors by requesting the near impossible.

Although committee Republicans say they have conducted their own investigation, what they’ve accomplished is far different from what a prosecutor or law enforcement agency would do. Committee members have reached out to those connected to the allegations and, in some instances, have received letters from lawyers representing those individuals. Some holding key information related to the allegations — including a person Ford named as an eye witness to her assault — haven’t come before the committee.

In other words, Mitchell had scant information to launch this process, and a time-limited platform in which to complete it. So, she followed the threads of information she had only to discover some were dead ends.

When things looked bad for the nomination, the aspirations for civility and quest for truth became expendable. This White House administration isn’t, after all, known for patience.

Here’s hoping, when the cameras stopped rolling, someone at least remembered to thank Mitchell for taking one for the team.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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