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Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee — who are all men — have hired a female sex-crimes prosecutor to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the woman accusing him of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, at a hearing Thursday.
But Republicans refused to identify that prosecutor on Tuesday.
The committee's Democratic senators — four of whom are women — will question Kavanaugh and Ford themselves. Those women are Dianne Feinstein of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California.
Ford's lawyer Michael Bromwich, in a letter Monday night to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had blasted the suggestion of having a prosecutor, instead of senators, question her and Kavanaugh.
"This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate," Bromwich said. "Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters "we have hired a female assistant to go on staff and to ask these questions in a respectful and professional way."
"We're looking for the truth here, I don't think because you happen to be a male that you're disqualified from listening to the evidence and making a decision based upon the evidence," said McConnell, when a reporter noted that Republicans on the committee were all men.
Grassley on Tuesday would not release the name of the prosecutor he hired to grill the two witnesses about an incident that Ford says occurred when she and Kavanaugh, 53, were both private high school students in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s. Kavanaugh, who is a federal appellate judge, has denied Ford's claims.
Grassley told Politico "we aren't announcing the name [of the prosecutor] for her safety, " but also said he did not know of any threats to the attorney.
"I guess we're just being cautious," he said.
GOP committee aides told NBC News they're not sure whether they will announce the sex-crimes prosecutor's name before Thursday's hearing. The aides also would not release other details about the prosecutor's resume.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who is not on the committee, criticized the decision by Republicans to farm out their work to a prosecutor.
"This is not a criminal prosecution It's a Senate hearing. I'm amazed they would not ask questions themselves and not disclosing who it is they are trying to make this as hard on Dr. Frd as they can at every turn they are trying to do that," Kaine said.
And Kristina Rose, executive director of End Violence Against Women International, said the arrangement "creates the wrong environment for any real fact finding and clearly gives the impression she is on trial for wrongdoing."
Ford's claims could disrupt Kavanaugh's chances of drawing enough Republican votes to secure confirmation to the high court. Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. Two GOP defections, combined with unified Democratic opposition, would sink the judge's confirmation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed confidence that he would have the votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
The Judiciary Committee's chief counsel for nominations, in a letter Tuesday to Ford's lawyer Bromwich, said Grassley's goal is to "depoliticize this process and search for the truth — instead of creating a forum for senators to grandstand or launch their presidential campaigns."
The counsel, Mike Davis, also cast the Republican majority's decision to let an unelected woman do their jobs as an appropriate reflection of the seriousness of Thursday's hearing, which was scheduled after Ford went public with her allegations.
"For the most serious hearings in our more recent history, such as Watergate and Iran-Contra, the Senate had experienced counsel question the witnesses," Davis wrote.
"The Chairman believes that Dr. Ford's allegations are serious. Thus, the Chairman has hired an experienced sex-crimes prosecutor to serve as an investigative staff counsel for the hearing," Davis added. "She will question Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday on behalf of the Republican members."
Davis also said in his letter that Grassley had promised Ford "that he would provide a fair, safe, dignified forum for Dr. Ford to provide her testimony."
"The Chairman and Dr. Ford both agree that we do not want a 'circus,' like we experienced during the first four days of the confirmation hearing," Davis wrote.
Bromwich did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, in the letter he sent Grassley on Monday night, Bromwich had objected to an non-committee member handle the questioning. Bromwich wrote:
"In our view, the hiring of an unnamed "experienced sex crimes prosecutor," as Mr. Davis described in his email, is contrary to the Majority's repeated emphasis on the need for the Senate and this Committee's members to fulfill their constitutional obligations. It is also inconsistent with your stated wish to avoid a "circus," as well as Dr. Blasey Ford's repeated requests through counsel that senators conduct the questioning. This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate. Neither Dr. Blasey Ford nor Judge Kavanaugh is on trial. The goal should be to develop the relevant facts, not try a case.
Mr. Davis's comparison of the hearing on Thursday to the Watergate or Iran-Contra hearings is disingenuous. As you know, neither occurred in the Judiciary Committee. The Watergate hearings were conducted by the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities; they lasted for months resulting in over 319 hours being televised. The Iran-Contra hearings were conducted by a joint committee of the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran and the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition that lasted 41 days. The outside counsel hired to those Committees did not come on board to ask questions of witnesses three days before the hearings started. The central point is that there is no precedent for this Committee to bring in outside counsel for the sole purpose of shielding the members of the Committee from performing their responsibility to question witnesses.
Mr. Davis still has not responded to a number of outstanding questions about the hearing, including an explanation of the role of the "experienced sex crimes prosecutor" in the Committee format. Please identify this person and ask your staff to send us her resume immediately. We respectfully request to meet with her tomorrow. We are available for a call with the Majority and Minority staff to discuss the remaining questions anytime."
Ford, 51, has said Kavanaugh and his high school friend Mark Judge, who were very drunk, brought her into a bedroom in a private home in Montgomery County, Maryland, one day in the early 1980s, during a gathering with several other then-high school students.
Ford claimed Kavanugh held her down on a bed while Judge watched, grinded his body against her, and tried to pull off her clothes. When she tried to scream, Ford told The Washington Post, Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand.
"I thought he might inadvertantly kill me," Ford, a research psychologist, told the newspaper. "He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing."
After Ford went public with her claims, another woman, Deborah Ramirez, told The New Yorker magazine about an incident involving Kavanaugh that occurred when they were both students at Yale University in the mid-1980s.
Ramirez, 53, claims that during a drunken dorm party, Kavanaugh exposed himself and thrust his penis toward her face, causing her to touch it when she pushed him away.
The lawyer Michael Avenatti, meanwhile, has said he represents a third woman who is both an accuser and witness to Kavanaugh's misconduct from their high school years.
Avenatti told Davis, the Judiciary Committee's counsel, in an email that he has knowledge of house parties in the early 1980s, at which Kavanaugh and Judge "and others would participate in the targeting of women with alcohol/drugs in order to allow a 'train' of men to subsequently gang rape them."
"There are multiple women that will corroborate these facts, and each of them must be called to testify," Avenatti said.
Kavanaugh has denied sexually assaulting anyone, at any time, or being aware of gang rapes as alleged by Avenatti.