Senate panel concludes Thomas hearing Nominee, Hill decide not to appear again Testimony offered on behalf of each

October 14, 1991|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The increasingly tense verbal combat over Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas moved on to the full Senate today as its Judiciary Committee ended a bitter, and often dramatic, investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct.

At 2:02 a.m. today, Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr., D-Del., closed the panel's reopened investigation into charges of sexual misconduct by Anita F. Hill, who had worked for Judge Thomas in the governemnt.

Neither Ms. Hill nor Judge Thomas asked to return to the witness stand today, so the renewed hearings on the nomination came to a close. The full Senate has scheduled a final vote on the nomination at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

As the hearing ended, it was newly apparent that the long weekend inquiry had brought the committee no closer to a firm judgment on the truth or falsity of the accusations or of the nominee's flat denial of them.

One of the nominee's key supporters on the Judiciary Commitee, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said after the final session of the panel early today that he thought Ms. Hill's decision not to testify again was, for him, a signal that the fight against the nominee was ended. "It's all over," the senator said.

On the third day of the unprecedented inquiry into sexual complaints against a nominee for the nation's highest court, the dispute had shifted back to the direct conflict in testimony.

Four friends of Ms. Hill told the committee that she had told them, years ago, of unwanted sexual advances by Judge Thomas when she worked for him, and they argued that it would not be like her to make up anything or to lie.

Then four women who worked with both Judge Thomas and with Ms. Hill said she was a disgruntled employee who was ambitious, selfish or both but who had been frustrated by not remaining a part of his inner circle in the government.

The committee continued hearing witnesses into the night, calling its last panel to start at 1:30 a.m. Earlier in the evening, the committee decided not to call to the witness stand a second woman, Angela D. Wright, of Charlotte, N.C., who has accused the nominee of unwelcome sexual gestures and comments.

Ms. Wright, however, said in a telephone interview which the committee put into its record, that Mr. Thomas repeatedly made references to the anatomy of herself and other female employees when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ms. Wright, who was public relations director at the EEOC until Mr. Thomas fired her in 1985, accused him of commenting upon the size of her breasts, remarking about the "sexy" clothing he thought she was wearing, and referred to another woman at the EEOC as having "a big ass."

Most of her accusations had been made public earlier, but she added new ones in the interview with the committee's staff, including suggestions that he had made racist comments.

She recalled a meeting at the EEOC at which a staff member expressed discomfort about traveling to Mississippi with an interracial group. Mr. Thomas, she recalled, said: "I have no problem with Mississippi. You know why I like Mississippi? Because they still sell those little pickaninnies dolls down there. And I bought me a few of them, too."

At another point, she said he assured a member of the staff that his problem in obtaining money for a mortgage or some other purpose was that "you're not black enough. . . . If you grew an Afro and put on a --iki, you would get all the government money you want."

Ms. Wright's recollections about the sexually explicit comments

she attributed to Mr. Thomas were supported by Rose Jourdaine, a former speech writer for Mr. Thomas, who was fired by him on the same day that Ms. Wright was dismissed from the EEOC.

The committee decided not to put Ms. Wright on as a witness after Republicans threatened to work agressively to undermine her word, and Democrats privately expressed concern that some of the negative effect of that would tend to diminish the believability of Judge Thomas' primary accuser, Ms. Hill.

During the middle part of the day yesterday, Ms. Hill took and passed a lie detector test, with the reported result of "no indication of deception to any relevant question" about her charges of sexual harassment.

President Bush, who repeated his strong support of the nominee and again predicted Senate approval, said he thought it would be "a stupid idea" for Mr. Thomas to take a similar test. "I don't want to be in a position of advocating that every nominee takes a lie-detector test," he said during a round of golf at Ijamsville, Md., near his retreat at Camp David.

The Senate committee, in an extraordinary Sunday session, continued to pursue the issue of whether one or the other main combatants in this high political drama was lying, with senators saying repeatedly that they could not be sure either way.

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