Hill is graphic, Thomas bitter Court nominee likens treatment to 'lynching

October 12, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A woman law professor, in hour after hour of composed yet sometimes bitter and shocking testimony, put the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas into deep trouble yesterday, but the nominee fought back angrily and accused senators of a "lynching."

Anita F. Hill, a serene figure seldom fazed by tough and often embarrassing questions, sat through the day before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the same chair that Judge Thomas occupied before and after her.

Ms. Hill testified that when she worked as an aide to Judge Thomas, he tried unsuccessfully to go out with her five to 10 times and spoke to her "about acts he had seen in pornographic films."

He said the films showed "women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes" and spoke of "pornographic materials depicting people with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts."

After Ms. Hill had spent the day making searing accusations about "disgusting" sexual advances, the nominee went back to the witness chair last night to assail both her and the committee in a display of fuming temper.

He told the committee that he had not watched or listened to Ms. Hill on television at all, saying, "I have heard enough lies."

Even so, he also testified that he was denying "each and every single allegation" made by her.

Then he loosed a scalding complaint against the committee for having "validated and sprayed over the entire nation . . . this dirt, this gossip, these lies."

As the senators listened in silence, Judge Thomas called the inquiry into Ms. Hill's allegations "a national disgrace . . . a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks."

The message that yesterday's proceedings was sending to blacks, he said, "was that unless you kowtow, this is what will happen to you. You'll be lynched, destroyed and caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than being hung from a tree."

The panel will continue to question Judge Thomas today and then will turn to other witnesses.

Judge Thomas' emotional display last night revealed a side of his personality that had not emerged in five days of testimony before his nomination was threatened by Ms. Hill's allegations. In the first round, he was calm throughout, even when faced with aggressive questioning. Last night, there did not appear to be any need for questioning to ignite his anger.

The atmosphere on Capitol Hill showed that Judge Thomas' chances of becoming a Supreme Court justice had eroded because of what Ms. Hill had said.

However, when he had finished testifying, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, in a buoyant mood, issued a statement calling his appearance "a powerful testimony to his integrity and character." The spokesman later commented that "we agree with everything Judge Thomas said."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Fitzwater had said of Ms. Hill: "She's given a credible performance; nobody doubts that." But he added that the president was prepared to see the nomination through.

Milling observers inside and outside the Senate Caucus Room, however, began speculating openly on how long Judge Thomas could stay in the fight to become a Supreme Court justice.

The speculation, in fact, began with the nominee's own 22-minute opening statement, in which his recitation seemed to be building toward a dramatic announcement that he was withdrawing.

"No job," he said near the end of his morning remarks, "is worth what I have been through. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. . . . It has got to stop. Enough is enough."

He said he liked the job he has now, as a federal appeals court judge, and was "comfortable with the prospect of returning" to that work. "I want my life and my family's life back, and I want them returned expeditiously."

But he stopped short of bowing out. In a few staccato sentences, he challenged the committee and the full Senate: "Confirm me if you want. Don't confirm me if you are so led. But let this process end."

Ms. Hill then proceeded to lay out what she called the "ugly" episodes of sexual harassment that she remembered from nearly a decade ago.

On several occasions, she said, "Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess."

At other times, she testified, "he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal, and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex.

"I felt that implicit in this discussion about sex was the offer to have sex with him, not just . . . going out to dinner or going to a particular concert or movie."

Mr. Biden, trying to draw from her more details about Judge Thomas' alleged remarks about sex, elicited from Ms. Hill a recollection that had referred to the name of a pornographic character "who had a very large penis."

Mr. Biden asked her to identify the character.

"The name that was referred to was Long Dong Silver," she said with reluctance.

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