Thomas plans to deny all, backers say At hearing with accuser, court nominee intends to focus on legal points

October 10, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas expects to make an explicit denial -- under oath -- of every specific charge of sexual misconduct that a former female aide makes against him, sources involved in the confirmation fight indicated yesterday.

The reopened Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are now set to begin tomorrow at 10 a.m. The committee made plans last night to hear the nominee and the woman who has accused him of sexual harassment -- Oklahoma law professor Anita F. Hill.

Although committee members were still working out details last night, it appeared that only two or three senators from each party -- not the full 14-member Judiciary Committee -- would conduct the hearing, in order to speed it up, cut down repetition and, one source suggested, increase chances of making the process more dignified.

It is expected, a Capitol Hill source said, that Ms. Hill would appear first, and Judge Thomas later. Other witnesses may be summoned to testify, however; the witness list was not final last night. If all testimony is not given tomorrow, hearings will continue on Saturday and probably finish that day, the source indicated.

The Senate has scheduled a final vote on his nomination Tuesday at 6 p.m., and the committee does not intend to carry on the hearings into Monday, an aide to panel Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., said.

Judge Thomas was working yesterday on the testimony he will give when he returns to the committee's witness chair, and those aware of his preparations cautioned against speculating about what he will say in answer to any specific questions senators might ask.

But he was said to be treating Ms. Hill's widely publicized personal challenge as more legal than political in nature. With that in mind, and on the advice of Senate and White House strategists, Judge Thomas was described as determined to try to force the Senate to choose between believing his word that there was no sexual misconduct and her word that there was.

In order to set up that specific conflict of credibility, pro-Thomas sources said, the nominee is expected to follow the general approach of reacting to Ms. Hill's allegations as if they were NTC formal legal complaints of sexual harassment, and then to answer them with denials in that vein.

This would follow, it was noted, the content of his carefully worded sworn affidavit, made public by his supporters on

Tuesday. In the key paragraph of that document, Mr. Thomas said, "I totally and unequivocally deny Anita Hill's allegations of misconduct of any kind toward her, sexual or otherwise. These allegations are untrue."

An explicit denial of specific charges would be designed to help him avoid being drawn into open-ended disputes with Ms. Hill over the meaning of conversations they may have had while working together, sources close to the nominee suggested. He and his advisers are said to see the issue before the committee as one over sexual harassment as a legal phenomenon, and only that.

Judge Thomas' main supporter in the Senate, John C. Danforth, R-Mo., said yesterday that those who watch the reopened hearings on television will hear a wholesale denial of any misconduct.

Asked in an ABC-TV interview how the nominee would fight the sexual harassment charge, Mr. Danforth said Judge Thomas "will look the members of the [Senate Judiciary] Committee in the eye and look the American people in the eye and say simply that this is not true."

One Capitol Hill source involved in the process suggested that the Missouri senator did not mean to indicate that Judge Thomas will be denying statements beyond the specifics of Ms. Hill's charges.

After he knows what she has said under oath to support her claim of harassment, he would know with specificity what it is he must answer. His answer, it was suggested, would be as specific a denial as the charge involved, and every charge would be denied directly.

Mr. Danforth has said that he does not expect the reopened hearings to "resolve" the dispute over Ms. Hill's charges. "At the end of the hearing," the senator told his colleagues Tuesday night, "people will either believe Judge Thomas or they will believe Ms. Hill, or they will not believe either."

But that, according to pro-Thomas sources, is exactly where the nominee's followers want the matter left. They are expecting Judge Thomas to prevail in the credibility contest, with at least enough senators to restore a majority.

The strategists have put enough pressure on Senate leaders to get the reopened hearings going promptly that there now seems little chance of a delay in the final vote beyond Tuesday evening. Mr. Danforth has said that he feared opponents would use the one-week delay agreed upon this week to find others to make complaints against the nominee.

But, as of last night, there was no indication that any other individuals had emerged with a story strong enough to have the committee subpoena them to appear at the new hearings.

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