Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Jill Abramson Smears Justice Thomas, Again, Part 2: Anita Hill

Anita Hill testities in the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 (CPAN/YouTube)

Since Jill Abramson (and others) seem to have forgotten the many reasons Americans overwhelmingly believed Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill after watching the hearings themselves, here is a summary of some of the biggest holes in her story:

The FBI deemed Anita Hill not credible.

— Two FBI agents interviewed Anita Hill with respect to her charges prior to her committee testimony, asking her to provide the specifics of all incidents. But her testimony to the committee added new lurid headline-grabbing charges not in her FBI testimony or a similar pre-testimony affidavit. One agent said her new testimony included “comments that were in contradiction with” her earlier statement.

Anita Hill’s charges were never corroborated or substantiated.

— Hill’s charges that Thomas made crude remarks to her or pursued her to date him were inconsistent and unreliable. When first contacted by Senate staffers, Hill was evasive and did not provide information about Thomas’s alleged conduct. Then, when she made her allegations, she wanted complete anonymity. She repeatedly refused to be interviewed by the FBI. She later relented but then lied about the FBI interview in later testimony.

–Not one co-worker of Hill’s testified in support of her allegations. Many of Thomas’ female employees, some of whom had been victims of sexual harassment themselves in other jobs, testified to his “scrupulous” treatment of women and extraordinary sensitivity.

–Even the friend Hill said could corroborate her allegations couldn’t do so, because the conversation she remembered having with Hill occurred before she worked for Thomas.  Three more friends called at the last minute had only unhelpfully vague recollections.

No other accusers came forward to testify.

— Unlike most cases involving sexual harassment, including the recent #MeToo revelations about major media figures, Anita Hill is the only person to testify under oath that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her.

— Two other women identified by Thomas opponents as potential accusers, Sukari Hardnett and Angela Wright, both said Thomas did not harass them. Wright, who claimed Thomas had pursued her but didn’t harass her, was not a strong witness even to that minor claim (even though HBO and now Jill Abramson treat her as a smoking gun). She had been fired by Thomas for using an anti-gay slur and had said she would seek revenge. Although committee Republicans wanted her to be allowed to testify to illustrate the weakness of the case against Thomas, Democrats entered her testimony into the record only so there would be no opportunity to rebut it.

 Every witness who knew both Thomas and Hill believed Thomas.

 — Twelve women who had worked with Thomas testified on his behalf before the committee. They described the allegations against him as “unbelievable” or “totally preposterous” and considered him “absolutely incapable of the abuses described by Prof. Hill.” Not one coworker of Hill corroborated her allegations, and even the two coworkers she looked to for support said Thomas was not guilty of harassment.

Anita Hill stayed in touch with Clarence Thomas after her alleged incidents took place. 

— Anita Hill’s charges stem from her work with Justice Thomas when they both worked at the EEOC. But after she left the EEOC, and after the time period during which she alleged that Justice Thomas made sexual remarks to her, Hill called Thomas several times over several years. Additionally, when Hill arranged for Thomas to give a speech in Oklahoma she eagerly joined Thomas for breakfast at a friend’s home and offered to drive Thomas to the airport.

Clarence Thomas vigorously defended himself before the committee and referred to events as a “high tech lynching.” 

 — “I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way ever harassed her.”

— “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. — U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.”

Hill probably perjured herself during her Judiciary Committee testimony.

— Senator Arlen Specter asked Hill about a report that she had been told offering an affidavit alleging harassment would induce Thomas to withdraw his nomination “quietly and behind the scenes.” When Hill denied any memory of this conversation, Chairman Joe Biden called a lunch recess and suggested her lawyers should speak with her, knowing, as he later told Senator Specter, that she was lying. After lunch, her story changed and she remembered “some indication” that Thomas “might not want to continue the process” if she made charges.

— Hill claimed to have followed Thomas to a later job despite the alleged harassment because she was afraid she would have been fired from the Department of Education by the new director, and then she claimed not to have known that her position was protected and that the incoming director had already asked her to stay. Former coworkers contradicted her testimony on both points.

— Hill claimed not to have continued contacting Thomas after leaving EEOC, but then later recanted when faced with telephone logs showing eleven such calls over eight years. Senator Specter called this testimony “flat-out perjury.”

Polls at the time showed that the American people believed Clarence Thomas’s vigorous denial of Hill’s allegations.

— A 1991 CBS News/NY Times poll found that, more than two to one, the American people believed Clarence Thomas.

— 58 percent percent of Americans believed Thomas, while 24 percent believed Anita Hill.

New York Times report: “The poll, taken Sunday night, shows that a majority of Americans remain skeptical of the accusations made against Judge Thomas by his former aide, Anita F. Hill. More than half of those surveyed said they believed that the account of sexual harassment offered by Ms. Hill, now a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, was ‘probably not true.’”

(See Parts 134, & 5)

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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