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Hill's New Harassment Allegations Draw Angry Denials From Thomas : Hearings: The law professor testifies that the nominee often spoke to her about sex. Judge calls the proceedings 'a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.'

October 12, 1991|EDWIN CHEN and MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In riveting appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee, federal appeals court Judge Clarence Thomas and University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Faye Hill offered compelling but utterly contradictory testimony Friday about the allegations of sexual harassment that threaten to block Thomas' confirmation to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Hill offered explosive new testimony to support her allegations.

And Thomas, by turns anguished and enraged, declared that not even a seat on the highest court in the land was worth the pain he and his family have suffered since Hill's charges came to light a week ago. "Enough is enough," he declared.

He lashed out at the public airing of what he called Hill's "scurrilous" and "uncorroborated" claims, calling the hearings "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks."

Hill, speaking softly but in terms so graphic that many spectators fidgeted uneasily in their seats, told the panel that Thomas had repeatedly boasted to her of his sexual prowess while she served on his staff at the Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1980s.

Several times, she said, he graphically described to her scenes from pornographic films--including episodes in which women had sex with animals.

She said Thomas would frequently summon her to his office for one-on-one meetings, talk briefly of pending business, then turn the conversation to sex. He more than once "referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal," Hill told an apparently stunned committee and "spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex."

Friday's televised hearings, which will continue today and probably into next week, were convened by the Judiciary Committee after a public firestorm erupted over the panel's apparent failure to fully investigate Hill's charges, which surfaced just two days before the Senate was to have voted on Thomas' confirmation. At the time, most analysts had expected that Thomas would win approval by a comfortable margin.

Thomas, who appeared on the witness stand at the hearing's opening and later after Hill spoke, denied categorically "all" the charges that Hill made in her testimony and in earlier statements, contending that he had never had any conversation with her that contained any sexual innuendoes.

"Senator," he told Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) at the end of the day of hearings, "I know that what she is saying is untrue."

It was not immediately clear, however, just how the day's unprecedented events would affect the Thomas nomination. Hill's account seemed devastating in its specific detail and in the apparent absence of motive for fabrication. Yet Thomas' moving declarations of innocence, and the apparent absence of direct evidence to support Hill's charges, appeared to constitute a powerful defense.

The Senate's ultimate decision will be complicated by the fact that the controversy mingles two politically explosive issues: fairness to an up-from-poverty black judge and sensitivity to the problems of women who encounter sexual harassment in the workplace.

With more testimony and more witnesses to come, committee members indicated they still were undecided over which witness to believe after more than 10 hours of testimony.

"Here we are in a perplexed situation, and trying to get to the bottom of it," said Heflin as the panel prepared to shut down for the night. "We're still faced with the fact that if she's lying, why?"

Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) also was cautious. "Because we are hearing this allegation," he told Thomas, "does not mean that we assume the allegation is correct. This has not been decided. Tell us what you know. We're trying to determine what happened."

Barring new action by the Judiciary Committee--or a possible withdrawal of the nomination by the White House or Thomas himself--the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination Tuesday.

Seated behind the long green-felt-covered table, her slight frame barely rising above it, Hill answered questions in a neutral, almost clinical tone.

In what she called "one of the oddest episodes," Hill recalled being in Thomas' office when he picked up a can of soft drink that was on his desk. She said he held up the can and asked: "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"

Hill said Thomas had begun asking her out "approximately three months" after she became his special counsel at the Department of Education in 1981. She said she rebuffed him, but he was not easily put off.

Later, Hill said, Thomas began talking to her about pornographic movies he had seen involving women with large breasts having group sex, having sex with animals and being raped. Such talk, she said, left her "embarrassed and humiliated" and "extremely uncomfortable."

Hill said all these conversations occurred either in Thomas' office or her own or in a restaurant or government cafeteria, and thus could not have been overheard.

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