New book suggests Thomas May Have perjured himself about sex charges

November 03, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A new and sharply critical book about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggests that it was more than likely that he lied under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee three years ago, but one of his closest friends retorted that "there's nothing there."

The long-awaited and heavily promoted book by two Wall Street Journal reporters draws no hard and fast conclusions about who told the truth in the famous televised confrontation in 1991 between Judge Thomas, then a nominee to the court, and law professor Anita F. Hill after she accused him of sexually harassing her and he flatly denied it.

But, in the opening pages of their book, "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson say that they have found after more than two years of research that "the preponderance of the evidence suggests" that Judge Thomas "did lie under oath."

"The truth in this matter," the authors argue, "favors her much more than was apparent at the time of the hearings." They also concede, however, that "many of the facts of this case are open to different interpretations" and that unless a witness to the private encounters between Judge Thomas and Ms. Hill comes forward, "no one will ever know with absolute certainty" whether one or either "was telling the whole truth."

The justice's office at the court had sent word 24 hours before the book was released yesterday that he would have no comment.

But Armstrong Williams, a Washington public relations executive and talk-show host who oftens acts as a spokesman for the justice, commented: "There's nothing new, nothing damaging, no new witnesses; there's nothing there."

"It pains me to see this," Mr. Williams added. "This does nothing but divide."

Since Justice Thomas was approved narrowly by the Senate after a bitter fight that focused on Ms. Hill's allegations of sexual misconduct when he was her boss in the federal government, the legal and political community here has been aware that the new book was in the works, and expectancy has built up.

But because the book in its final form seems to provide evidence only to continue a public debate over Justice Thomas and Ms. Hill, it appears unlikely to lead to any official action.

Elliot M. Mincberg, legal director of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group that had opposed Justice Thomas' nomination, commented: "This does not have a lot of formal significance; no one is going to seriously suggest the institution of impeachment or [Senate] hearings. There will be no formal change in Justice Thomas' status."

He added that "Justice Clarence Thomas is an accomplished fact," and is now "one-ninth of the most powerful court in the land, and someone we hope occasionally will vote the way we advocate."

Another liberal challenger to Mr. Thomas, Nan Aron, executive director of the Alliance for Justice, said that it "remains to be seen" whether the Senate would seek to hold new hearings.

"It is premature to determine what, if anything, members of Congress will do with this," she added.

Ms. Aron argued that the Thomas-Hill battle "is an issue that continues to kind of haunt the public."

But Mr. Williams, Justice Thomas' friend, contended that the release of the book ought to end the focus on what happened in 1991. Accusing the "liberal media" of seeking to keep the controversy alive, he added: "The bottom line is that the man is on the court; let the man be judged by his decisions, not by his past. It is time to put the lid on this coffin, and bury it."

The book, begun not long after the Senate had voted on Judge Thomas' nomination, is based on extensive interviews and on official documents, the authors say. They describe interviews with additional witnesses who support Ms. Hill's claim of harassment, and others who say they knew personally of Judge Thomas' conduct, but none of those were called to testify before the Judiciary Committee. The identities of all but one of those witnesses apparently had been revealed before.

Probing deeply into the White House-led campaign to win Senate approval for Justice Thomas, the book quotes officials in the former Bush administration as saying that Justice Thomas' categorical denial of Ms. Hill's charges was crucial to winning.

The book offers new allegations about Justice Thomas' reading and movie-viewing habits, suggesting that he was a collector of Playboy magazines and was a frequent renter of X-rated videos.

Some of the book's passages are sexually explicit, but no more so than Ms. Hill's own public testimony before the Judiciary Committee. Many of the book's allegations are stated matter-of-factly, and often tentatively.

While the book goes deeply into the backgrounds of both Justice Thomas and Ms. Hill, the authors dispute many of Justice Thomas' claims about his impoverished origins while supporting many of Ms. Hill's descriptions of her early life.

The book contends that Justice Thomas had been seeking, since 1981, to get himself in position to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

It also is broadly critical of Justice Thomas' performance on the court, saying that his work has "belied his promise to cast off all ideological agendas." He is also described as "the most political of justices."

Last year, Ms. Mayer and Ms. Abramson wrote a lengthy and strongly negative review of an earlier book growing out of the Thomas-Hill matter, David Brock's scathing critique of Ms. Hill's character and credibility, "The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story."

Sen. John C. Danforth, a Missouri Republican for whom Justice Thomas previously worked and who was a leading figure in the fight for the justice, recently published his and Justice Thomas' account of that effort, "Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas, A Story of Friendship and Faith."

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