Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas has "categorically denied" allegations by a University of Oklahoma law professor that he sexually harassed her during the two years she worked for him in Washington, the nominee's chief Senate supporter said Sunday.
Calling the charges "an eleventh-hour attack more typical of a political campaign," Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) led a rising chorus of Republican voices urging a speedy confirmation for Thomas when the Senate votes on his nomination Tuesday evening.
Administration officials said they had been aware of the charges made last month by Anita Faye Hill, a 35-year-old Yale Law School graduate who worked for Thomas at two federal agencies, had investigated them and found them without merit.
Nonetheless, some Democrats on Sunday called for a full airing of the matter, even if the confirmation vote has to be delayed--an act that would require unanimous consent of the Senate.
"The charges are serious enough that the Judiciary Committee should consider requesting a postponement of the vote," said Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who said he had found Hill to be a credible witness when he spoke with her shortly before the committee deadlocked on the nomination. Another Thomas opponent on the committee, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), also raised the possibility of a delay pending consideration of the allegations.
The charges, first reported by Newsday and National Public Radio, concern sexually suggestive comments that Thomas is alleged to have made to Hill when she worked for him.
Until Hill's allegations became public, Thomas' confirmation was seen as virtually a foregone conclusion, even though the judiciary panel had split, 7 to 7, on whether to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.
Now, supporters and opponents alike are bracing for what could be a last-minute confrontation in which the reputations and credibilities of both the accuser and the accused will be on the line.
Already Sunday, Thomas' supporters had brought forward names of women with whom he had worked who were ready to vouch for his integrity, while friends and colleagues of Hill lined up to verify her reputation for truthfulness.
Thomas' backers vowed to fight any effort to delay the vote.
"This charge will have no effect on the Senate vote," Danforth said.
"We believe we still have the votes to confirm," added a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
A White House spokeswoman also said that Tuesday's vote should "absolutely not" be postponed. "The Supreme Court begins its hearings (today), and it's time for a vote on the nomination," said Deputy Press Secretary Judy Smith.
Neither Thomas nor Hill could be reached Sunday.
But Hill said in a National Public Radio interview that in 1981 Thomas frequently talked about sexual matters in "vivid" terms that she found "ugly and intimidating" while she was his special counsel at the Department of Education, where he was assistant secretary for civil rights.
"He spoke about acts he had seen in pornographic films involving such things as women having sex with animals and films involving group sex or rape scenes," Hill said.
Her disgust, she added, seemed only to inspire him further. But after some months, she said, Thomas stopped--evidently after he found a steady female companion. At the time, Thomas was separated from his first wife.
When Thomas became chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1982, Hill followed, serving as his special assistant. Then, she charged, he resumed his sexual harassment of her. Hill said she endured the behavior because she was worried about her career. She also said he never threatened her or physically touched her.
The definition of sexual harassment, which is illegal discrimination, includes unwelcome advances that result in a hostile working environment. The federal job discrimination law covering such behavior is administered by the EEOC.
In 1983, Hill left the EEOC, taking a teaching job at Oral Roberts University Law School. Thomas had supplied a favorable job reference, she said.
Hill confirmed on NPR that her affidavit included the comment that when she left the government agency, Thomas asked her to go out to dinner, saying that she could ruin his career if she were to reveal his behavior.
In a statement issued Sunday in Norman, Okla., Hill said that she had cooperated with the Senate Judiciary Committee since early September, after she was contacted by a committee staff member.
The statement said that "after numerous discussions with Judiciary Committee staff, I decided to disclose that information (about the alleged sexual harassment) to the committee only."
Hill, who was characterized by Sen. Simon and others as extremely reluctant to go public with her allegations, said that she only agreed to an interview with an NPR reporter after the reporter obtained a copy of Hill's sworn statement to the Judiciary Committee.
"I took the opportunity . . . to respond to the information before it was publicized. At no time have I ever sought out the press to raise my concerns," Hill's statement said. "Allegations that my efforts are an attempt to disparage the character of Clarence Thomas are completely unfounded."
David Swank, dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Law, said in an interview Sunday night in Norman that Hill told him that the Judiciary Committee learned of her allegations through a third party.
"Anita said that the friend she had told about this years ago, a judge in the West, had told someone who had contacted the Senate," Swank said.
NPR said the friend, who requested anonymity, confirmed that Hill had told her about the alleged incidents at the time.
Swank said that Hill is tired and had gone to stay at an undisclosed location Sunday after being innundated with press calls after the story broke. Swank expressed strong confidence in Hill's integrity and truthfulness.
"She is an excellent young professor," he said. "She is an outstanding teacher and a good scholar."
According to Senate staffers, the Judiciary Committee in late September relayed Hill's allegations to the FBI as well as to the White House.
"Upon completion of the FBI investigation on Sept. 25, the report was submitted to the White House and the committee. The White House reviewed the report and determined that the allegation was unfounded," spokeswoman Smith said. "The President continues to believe that Judge Thomas is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and expects him to be confirmed."
Privately, Administration officials questioned Hill's credibility, asserting that she had invited Thomas to lecture in Oklahoma only this spring. "It just doesn't add up," one official said.
Administration officials also raised questions about why Hill, if she had indeed been harassed by Thomas at the Department of Education, then left that post to join him at the EEOC.
Most, if not all, members of the Judiciary Committee were informed of Hill's allegations shortly before their Sept. 27 vote. But spokesmen for Metzenbaum and Simon said on Sunday that Hill's charges were never mentioned in public because the senators wanted to protect Hill's privacy.
The aides said the senators were openly discussing the matter now because her allegations have become public.
A Metzenbaum aide said Hill's contention was "one of the things that he took into consideration in his no-vote."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said on Sunday that he had confronted Thomas in late September with Hill's allegations, and the nominee "very forcefully denied" them.
Supporters and friends of both Thomas and Hill were surprised by the weekend's development.
"I was dumbfounded when I heard," said Diane Holt, who also worked for Thomas at the Education Department, as his secretary. "She seemed to get along with Thomas. That's what I don't understand. I don't know what her motivation is."
Holt, who also followed Thomas to the EEOC and is now a management analyst there, said she often went out with Hill for lunches and after-work drinks but never did Hill mention any grievances against Thomas.
A native of Oklahoma, Hill joined the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1986, where she is now a tenured professor, teaching courses in civil rights, contracts and commercial law and is active in career counseling programs.
"She's absolutely credible," said Shirley A. Wiegand, a fellow faculty member and friend of Hill's.
"I don't know anybody in the world except perhaps Clarence Thomas who would assail her credibility," she said. " . . . I have absolutely no reason to doubt her story or motive. She really agonized before going to the committee."
Several organizations opposing Thomas' appointment to the high court urged the Senate to carefully consider Hill's allegations before voting on his confirmation.
Frantz reported from Norman, Okla. Times staff writers Douglas Jehl, David G. Savage and Ronald J. Ostrow also contributed to this story.