Washington -- THE FULL story of the conspiracy to blackmail Clarence Thomas into withdrawing will not be told until after the Senate votes on his confirmation this evening. But the outlines of the plot to use Anita Hill to bring him down are clear.
Ricki Seidman, aide to that defender of womanhood, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and James Brudney, aide to Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, were tipped off by the legion of liberal activists digging for dirt that Professor Hill harbored a secret grudge against Thomas.
They called her and persuaded her to file the accusation that the reassembled Bork Brigade thought would surely bring him down. As the chosen instrument of the conspiracy to scare the nominee into withdrawing, Hill was assured by new and old friends that it could all be done from ambush; that her name would never be used publicly, or even made known to her target.
From her point of view, what was there to lose? She could settle a long standing score, which she may have persuaded herself to believe. In leaving a lifetime sinecure and following her mentor to his bigger job at EEOC, she lost personal contact with him and became disgruntled.
She attributed her disappointment at the time to three telephone friends as sexual harassment, but never mentioned it to the woman with whom she shared her apartment (a fact developed by Andrea Mitchell of NBC, the network that has dominated the coverage); this does not make her charge true then or now. She could block his advance without any cost to herself in reputation because it would all be done "quietly and behind the scenes," as USA Today later reported she was assured.
Thus was she manipulated into presenting a series of stories, each more vile and specific than the last, with the extensive help of some of the highest-priced legal talent and advocacy groups in Washington.
But when asked by Sen. Arlen Specter (the panel's only adept questioner, atoning for his Bork defection) whether anyone had told her of this plan to quietly pressure the target to quit -- in effect, blackmail -- she lied, and lied again, and lied a third time.
Then came the lunch break. She was urgently advised that this part of her testimony was more readily checkable than her decade-old story about harassment, and that the people who drew her into this public mess might not want to perjure themselves to support her denial. In the afternoon, not in answer to any question, she changed her story to a fudgy "might have been." Specter, a former prosecutor who knows perjury when it happens in front of him, nailed her on it.
The jury of the watching populace at last had something to go on other than conflicting testimony. If Hill was obviously willing to lie about the plot to get Thomas to quit, might she not be the liar in the escalating story about monstrous behavior?
Add to that the revelation that "Long Dong Silver," supposedly the crushing detail, was part of a court case familiar to the legal brigade using Hill; add the parade of former aides showing that the pattern of the accused's life runs to the contrary, and you have the reason that twice as many Americans believe Thomas as believe his accuser.
We have seen a couple of low blows. Sen. Paul Simon, a longtime opponent of "lie detectors," who knows that a pathological liar can easily pass, now professes to find credibility in a demagogic polygraph publicity stunt set up by Hill's handlers. Shall we suspend civil liberty and hook up the senators, their staff and all nominees to discredited sweat machines? What kind of country do the reputation-savagers want?
Sen. Alan Simpson's low blow was properly denounced by Kennedy (my longtime ally in the crusade against the fraud of polygraphs) after that self-described wild westerner hinted darkly of Hill's "proclivities." That is a code word for homosexuality; if Simpson has evidence that the accuser's sexual preference is related to her reluctance to bring a charge of sexual harassment, let him make his case or shut up.
I believe Clarence Thomas is the victim of a late hit by a self-deluded person manipulated by a conspiracy of character assassins. For the honestly doubtful -- unless they are prepared to kick away the fundament of our system of justice -- the benefit of the doubt must go to the accused.