White House is not afraid of new witness

October 11, 1991|By Aaron Epstein and Ellen Warren | Aaron Epstein and Ellen Warren,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The White House and congressional supporters of Judge Clarence Thomas reacted last night with unshaken confidence -- and even scorn -- to the disclosure that a second woman will testify against the Supreme Court nominee.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that the nomination would survive despite allegations by Angela D. Wright, a North Carolina newspaper editor and a former aide to Judge Thomas, that Judge Thomas made "unwelcome and inappropriate" sexual remarks to her.

Ms. Wright said Judge Thomas pressured her for dates, asked the size of her breasts, and appeared at her Washington apartment one night, unannounced and uninvited. She has been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Fitzwater, informed of the new information, discussed it with the president and then said Mr. Bush would "wait and see what happens at the hearing."

"We believe that Judge Thomas will be able to respond to these charges adequately," Mr. Fitzwater said.

In the Senate, Republicans said they were ready for Ms. Wright with what they said would be damaging information about her.

"We know she was twice dismissed from other jobs for indicating sexual harassment," said Judiciary Committee member Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. "We know that he [Judge Thomas] fired her for some very uncomplimentary statements about another group in society."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, who is expected to cross-examine Ms. Wright at the hearing, said of her allegations: "Well, that person is going to have her ass handed to her, from what I've heard. This is not quite the find people think it is."

He accused committee Democrats of "dirty tactics" and "another attempt to smear" Judge Thomas.

Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., Judge Thomas' close friend and prime backer in the Senate, declared buoyantly: "Surprise witnesses, last-minute over-the-transom stuff, exactly what we predicted on the floor on Tuesday when we delayed this."

Asked if he was ready to defend this, he replied: "Ready, able and looking forward to it with relish."

Although Judge Thomas fired Ms.Wright in 1985 from her public relations post at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he praised her in January 1990, when a Charlotte Observer editor called him when checking her references. Judge Thomas said Ms. Wright was "an excellent employee" who "worked very well under stress," according to notes taken by Mary Newsom, the newspaper's special-projects editor.

But R. Gaull Silberman, the current vice-chairman of the EEOC and an ardent Thomas backer, said Ms. Wright was dismissed in 1985 because of her job performance.

"I complained about her all the time because I thought she was grossly incompetent," said Ms. Silberman. She said that she discussed her dissatisfaction with Ms. Wright on several occasions with Judge Thomas, but that Judge Thomas was initially reluctant to fire her.

"We had a press conference in which something went very very wrong and he called her upstairs and said, 'You are out of here,' " Ms. Silberman said.

"They didn't know how to write a press release. When they would schedule a press conference, they would forget to call the reporters," said Ms. Silberman.

Ms. Silberman said she knew nothing about any possible sexual harassment.

She said one of Ms. Wright's former co-workers referred to her yesterday as "foul-mouthed."

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