Hatch, Specter staff members went to work quickly in effort to discredit Hill THOMAS HEARINGS

October 13, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Anita F. Hill had not even finished testifying Friday afternoon when four staff attorneys for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, set out on a hunt to discredit her.

They delved into law books, called legal experts, checked with government agencies and plugged into computer data banks capable of sorting millions of words in a few seconds. Their quarry: any telling reference to a certain pornographic film star known for his remarkable anatomy.

A Hatch staffer also headed for the District of Columbia public library, following up a tip phoned in by several citizens. The objective was a copy of "The Exorcist," which contained a passage describing a pubic hair floating in a glass of gin.

Meanwhile, a block down the street in the office of fellow Republican Arlen Specter, the staff of the senior senator from Pennsylvania was also searching, scanning transcripts of Ms. Hill's testimony and reviewing a videotape in pursuit of the exact moment when she consulted her attorneys about one of Mr. Specter's questions.

Thus was the groundwork laid, piece by piece, in the latest installment of the campaign to undermine Ms. Hill, the Oklahoma law professor whose sexual harassment claim has blocked the path of Judge Clarence Thomas to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The fruits of Friday's labors emerged in yesterday's testimony in a series of questions designed to portray Ms. Hill as, at best, an unreliable witness and, at worst, as the willing tool of liberal zealots and teams of "slick attorneys," as Mr. Hatch described them.

For supporters of Ms. Hill, the new information smacked of a smear campaign. For Mr. Hatch, it was just another round of ammunition in a war that has already ruined the reputation of Judge Thomas.

Mr. Hatch set the tone for the assault with his opening remarks at mid-morning, saying to Judge Thomas, "She is clearly a very intelligent woman. . . . But there are a lot of things that just don't make sense to me about Anita Hill's testimony. Some of it just doesn't square with what I think is basic reality and common sense."

He and Judge Thomas agreed, for instance, that dirty talk is hardly an effective way to get a date. Ms. Hill has alleged that Judge Thomas asked her out for dates several times, only to be refused. After the first few refusals, she testified, he would at times describe in detail to her scenes from pornographic movies.

Mr. Hatch said, "She would have us believe that you were saying these things because you wanted to date her."

"Senator, I think that the whole thing is sick." Judge Thomas said.

"I do, too," Mr. Hatch replied.

Mr. Hatch then zeroed in on some of the more graphic details of Ms. Hill's testimony, particularly her reference to Judge Thomas' alleged mention of a pornographic film star named "Long Dong Silver," and also her reference to a time when Judge Thomas allegedly picked up a soft-drink can and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"

It was in his questions on these matters that the previous day's groundwork came into play.

Mr. Hatch explained in a later interview that he and his staff were suspicious of those descriptions because Ms. Hill hadn't mentioned them during earlier interviews with the FBI. If the remarks could be brought into question, he reasoned, so might the rest of her testimony.

"We sat down and we brainstormed this," Mr. Hatch said. "When she brought up the pubic hair quote, we all thought, 'Why didn't she bring it up with the FBI?' And then the Long Dong Silver reference. It all seemed too cute. So I said we better find out some more about this."

Leading the quest were four members of his staff described by Mr. Hatch as "very good lawyers" -- Sharon Prost, Mark Disler, Darrell Panethiere and Miller Baker.

They checked the data bases and law books. They telephoned law professors and government experts in sexual harassment cases.

And they came up with this: a 1988 sexual harassment and racial discrimination case from U.S. District Court in Kansas, in which the plaintiff claimed, among other charges, that her employer had once "presented her with a picture of 'Long Dong Silver,' a photo of a black male with an elongated penis."

Yesterday, Mr. Hatch suggested at the hearing that Ms. Hill or a supporter could have come across the same case and used it to add more detail to her account. "That [court case] is a public opinion that's available in any law library," he said. "I have to tell you, I know it's available in the law library at the University of Oklahoma. I'm really concerned about this woman."

Next came the reference to "The Exorcist," which a Hatch staffer said resulted from several calls from the public. The passage mentions a character who asks a senator about "an alien pubic hair floating round in my gin." The character then says in an accusatory tone, "Never seen it before in my life! Have you?"

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