WASHINGTON — A telephone warning from a Senate Judiciary Committee aide to a black law professor supporting Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork was "reminiscent of the ugly tactics of the Ku Klux Klan," Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) said Sunday.
Humphrey, a Bork supporter and a member of the committee, called for an investigation of the incident as the Senate prepared to debate the nomination this week.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said debate on Bork could start Tuesday, but indicated he might remove the nomination from the agenda if arguments go on too long.
John T. Baker, an Indiana University law professor, had been scheduled to testify before the Judiciary Committee in support of Bork on Sept. 28, but withdrew after receiving a telephone call from committee aide Linda Greene the night before, according to a published report Sunday.
Humphrey called on Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) "to conduct an immediate investigation to determine whether this aide was acting under instructions or encouragement of her superiors."
"This intimidation of a witness, whether friendly or unfriendly to the nominee, is offensive, unethical and unfair," Humphrey said in a statement. " . . . Intimidation of a black witness is reminiscent of the ugly tactics of the Ku Klux Klan."
Greene, who is also black, said she knew Baker and warned him to expect a tough examination of his academic career and scholarship, but she denied her intent was to dissuade him from testifying, according the New York Times. She characterized it as a call to a professional associate whom she regarded as a friend.
"I told him: 'People are playing hardball,' " Greene said. "I asked him if he was prepared to go through tough questioning he was going to get."
Baker told the newspaper that Greene, counsel to a Judiciary subcommittee headed by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), played a role in changing his mind, but he said there was no intimidation or harassment.
Peter Harris, Metzenbaum's chief aide, said Sunday that Greene's statement to the newspaper--that neither Metzenbaum nor other committee members knew of her call or urged her to make it--was accurate.
He quoted Metzenbaum, who is strongly opposed to the nomination, as saying: "This shows how desperate the White House has become."
"Having failed to convince the United States Senate that Judge Bork should be a justice of the Supreme Court, the White House is now engaged in a frantic effort to divert attention and blame," Metzenbaum said in the statement.
"The issue is Judge Bork's record and views, not a private conversation between two longtime friends," he said.