AP Was There: The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings
WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative judge’s nomination to the Supreme Court is suddenly jeopardized by graphic allegations of sexual misconduct. A Republican president says his nominee has been smeared but vows he will prevail. The accuser and the accused face off in a dramatic showdown on Capitol Hill.
There are clear echoes of Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, as the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a pivotal hearing Thursday at which both Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford were to testify separately.
The cases are different: Ford alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high schoolers, while Hill alleged Thomas made unwanted sexual advances and lewd remarks while he was her employer.
Yet, there are more parallels. Like Kavanaugh, Thomas denied he had acted inappropriately. In both cases, the allegations became public only after the nominees had gone through their initial confirmation hearings. Both accusers initially sought to stay anonymous but later changed their minds.
The Thomas-Hill hearings riveted Americans, and the same is expected for Thursday’s Kavanaugh-Ford hearing.
Here is AP’s story from the day of Hill’s testimony on October 11, 1991.
Hill Accuses Thomas in Vivid Detail; He Denies Wrongdoing
By JAMES ROWLEY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Anita F. Hill testified in graphic, lurid detail Friday of the sexual harassment she says she suffered from Clarence Thomas, who swore it wasn’t true. Thomas told investigating senators that not even a seat on the Supreme Court was worth the prying he’s faced into his personal life.
Thomas said he would answer questions about the harassment allegation but nothing else because “I will not provide the rope for my own lynching.”
At an extraordinary hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas testified under oath that “I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment.” Nor, Thomas said, did he ever ask her for a date.
Then, after a bitter argument between committee Democrats and Republicans about what could and could not be asked of Thomas in his leadoff testimony, the nominee left and Hill was dramatically summoned.
After the accused and the accuser traded places, she recounted a series of episodes in which she said Thomas asked her for dates, bragged of his sexual prowess and told her - in the face of her obvious discomfort and objections - of X-rated movies of women engaging in sex acts with animals.
“I felt that implicit in the discussion about sex acts was the offer to have sex with him,” Hill testified.
Her words and his were flatly contradictory; there was no room for suggestion that one or the other had misinterpreted an innocent remark.
Early on, after Thomas completed his opening statement, a heated exchange broke out over how he might be questioned. Before that sequence was settled, an enraged Republican senator threatened to quit the committee when Democrats tried to prevent GOP members from using Hill’s statement to the FBI in their questioning.
Her statements to FBI agents were made during a secret, two-day inquiry last month.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., the chairman, ruled the statement out of bounds until she could testify, saying, “Professor Hill says that she wants to tell her story.”
“He has a right to face the accuser and everything that accuser says,” retorted Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, his voice throbbing with anger. “And if he doesn’t then I’m going to resign from this committee today. I’m telling you, I don’t want to be on it.”
It was the leak of Hill’s allegations that triggered the public investigation of her charges of harassment a decade ago, when she worked for Thomas at the Education Department and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
Until those accusations were publicly disclosed, in reports by Newsday and National Public Radio, the Senate was poised to confirm Thomas to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, divided but with a majority on his side.
In the tumult that followed, the confirmation vote was delayed for a week and the committee hearing reopened.
“This is not a trial, this is not a courtroom,” Biden said. “There will be no formal verdict of guilt or innocence.”
It was daytime television like none before. President Bush watched as Thomas delivered his opening statement, calling it “very powerful and convincing” and saying his nominee had been smeared.
“In my view, he will be confirmed,” Bush said at the White House. “And in the end, he will get his good name back.”
Hatch said at a midday break that Hill would face further questions about why she did not feel compelled to report Thomas at the time of the alleged incidents and how she could continue to work for him.
Of her allegations, he said, “If I thought that it was the truth, it would be terribly devastating.”
Thomas said in his opening statement that if any words of his had been misconstrued by Ms. Hill or anyone else as sexual harassment, he was very sorry and wished he had known, because he would have stopped it immediately.
Hill said she told him, more than once, that she didn’t want to go out with him and didn’t want to talk about the sexual matters he raised.
In failing to make a formal complaint at the time, she said, “I may have shirked a duty,” may have used poor judgment. But she said she feared for her career, felt helpless, and didn’t want to burn all bridges to the EEOC even after she left the job with Thomas in 1983 to become a law instructor at Oral Roberts University. She now is a professor at the University of Oklahoma.
Another woman, Angela Wright, now an editor at The Charlotte Observer, has said Thomas tried to date her when she worked for him at the EEOC in 1984 and 1985, asked her breast size, and came to her apartment uninvited. She said she asked him in, and they talked for about two hours.
Ms. Wright, who has been summoned to testify before the committee, said she didn’t consider it sexual harassment, but annoying, obnoxious behavior.
Hill said that about three months after she went to work for Thomas at the Education Department in 1981, “he asked me to go out socially,” and persisted although she said she didn’t want to date the boss.
“I was very uncomfortable with the idea, and told him so,” she said.
But she said he kept asking, and then started using work situations to talk about sex, sometimes in his office, sometimes at lunch in the cafeteria.
“His conversations were very lurid,” she said. “On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”
Hill said such behavior stopped and she, wanting the job, moved on to the EEOC with Thomas. But in the fall and winter of 1982, she said, the sex talk resumed and he again asked her out, not to specific events but in general terms, saying that they ought to see each other socially and pressing for an explanation of her refusals.
Hill said he told her that he had a large penis and described the pleasure he had given other women with oral sex.
One day in his office, she said, he was sipping a Coca-Cola, put the can down to do something else and, when he went back to it, asked her: “Who put pubic hair on my Coke?”
She said she was most embarrassed and humiliated when he talked about large-breasted women engaging in sex acts with animals and men.
Under questioning, first by Biden, then by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, she repeated her accounts, and her explanation of the later contacts with Thomas.
“These are not mere allegations to me,” she told Specter. “These comments are the truth to me.”
Thomas said he had come to clear his name and that his statement answering Hill’s accusation was not the work of advisers but his alone. He then denied her charge, said it had been his job and his personal commitment to combat sex harassment - and seemed on the brink of withdrawing as Bush’s nominee.
He said the honor of the nomination had been crushed by 103 days of prying, innuendo, rumors and dirt.
“Enough is enough,” Thomas said.
He said had come to respond to allegations of sex harassment in the workplace, but not “to be further humiliated by this committee or anyone else, or to put my private life on display for prurient interests or other reasons.”
Thomas said he had dealt with segregation, bigotry and racism, but “this is worse than any obstacle or anything else that I have ever faced. ...
“No job is worth what I have been through, no job,” Thomas said. “No horror in my life has been so debilitating.
“Confirm me if you want. Don’t confirm me if you are so led. But let this process end.”
Thomas said he never asked to be nominated and would be comfortable returning to his work as a judge on the court of appeals.
“I will not provide the rope for my own lynching or for further humiliation,” he said. “I am not going to engage in discussions nor will I submit to roving questions of what goes on in the most intimate parts of my private life or the sanctity of my bedroom.
“These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private,” he said.
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