Senate Judiciary Republicans mostly questioned Brett Kavanaugh themselves on Thursday, apparently abandoning plans to use a female outside counsel to question both witnesses during their hearing to vet an allegation of sexual assault against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Republican senators on the panel brought in Rachel Mitchell, a career prosecutor experienced in prosecuting sex crimes, to question witnesses at the hearing – a move that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said would help “de-politicize the process and get to the truth, instead of grandstanding,” when he announced the decision earlier in the week.
The decision by GOP senators to question Kavanaugh on their own was a striking contrast to earlier in the day when they had deferred to the sex crimes prosecutor to question a woman who claims she has been the victim of a sexual assault. Senate Judiciary Republicans did not provide a comparable experience to the man accused of that assault.
Mitchell questioned Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her, on behalf of the panel’s Republican lawmakers during the first part of the hearing.
But when it came time to question Kavanaugh, who denies the allegation, GOP senators took over from Mitchell in favor of asking their own questions and began to defend the high court nominee.
Mitchell started off asking questions of Kavanaugh when he appeared before the committee, but not long after, Republicans on the panel jumped in with questions and comments of their own.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham used his time to angrily accuse Democrats on the panel of hoping to “destroy” Kavanaugh’s life.
Graham went on to say, “I hope the American people can see through this sham.”
And he concluded with a message to his Republican colleagues, saying, “if you vote ‘no’, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing that I have seen in my time in politics.”
GOP Sen. Thom Tillis began his questioning of Kavanaugh by apologizing to the nominee for “what you’re going through right now.”
“I can’t imagine,” he said.
“I’ve gone through a campaign and had a lot of smears, but it pales in comparison with what you’ve had to deal with,” he added.
Later, the North Carolina Republican said to Kavanaugh, “I think you’ve been treated unfairly.”
Explaining the decision by Republican senators to ask questions themselves,Tillis told reporters after the hearing, “we didn’t expect” that Mitchell was “going to go the full range.” He added, “so we just decided that we were going to ask questions.”
Mitchell remained in the hearing room as Republicans proceeded to ask questions in her place.
Democratic senators conducted their own questioning of both witnesses and frequently expressed sympathy for Ford when they questioned her.
CNN’s Jasmine Wright and MJ Lee contributed to this report.