In riveting appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee, federal appeals court Judge Clarence Thomas and University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Faye Hill offered compelling but utterly contradictory testimony Friday about the allegations of sexual harassment that threaten to block Thomas' confirmation to a seat on the Supreme Court.
Hill offered explosive new testimony to support her allegations.
And Thomas, by turns anguished and enraged, declared that not even a seat on the highest court in the land was worth the pain he and his family have suffered since Hill's charges came to light a week ago. "Enough is enough," he declared.
He lashed out at the public airing of what he called Hill's "scurrilous" and "uncorroborated" claims, calling the hearings "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks."
Hill, speaking softly but in terms so graphic that many spectators fidgeted uneasily in their seats, told the panel that Thomas had repeatedly boasted to her of his sexual prowess while she served on his staff at the Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1980s.
Several times, she said, he graphically described to her scenes from pornographic films--including episodes in which women had sex with animals.
She said Thomas would frequently summon her to his office for one-on-one meetings, talk briefly of pending business, then turn the conversation to sex. He more than once "referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal," Hill told an apparently stunned committee and "spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex."
Friday's televised hearings, which will continue today and probably into next week, were convened by the Judiciary Committee after a public firestorm erupted over the panel's apparent failure to fully investigate Hill's charges, which surfaced just two days before the Senate was to have voted on Thomas' confirmation. At the time, most analysts had expected that Thomas would win approval by a comfortable margin.
Thomas, who appeared on the witness stand at the hearing's opening and later after Hill spoke, denied categorically "all" the charges that Hill made in her testimony and in earlier statements, contending that he had never had any conversation with her that contained any sexual innuendoes.
"Senator," he told Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) at the end of the day of hearings, "I know that what she is saying is untrue."
It was not immediately clear, however, just how the day's unprecedented events would affect the Thomas nomination. Hill's account seemed devastating in its specific detail and in the apparent absence of motive for fabrication. Yet Thomas' moving declarations of innocence, and the apparent absence of direct evidence to support Hill's charges, appeared to constitute a powerful defense.
The Senate's ultimate decision will be complicated by the fact that the controversy mingles two politically explosive issues: fairness to an up-from-poverty black judge and sensitivity to the problems of women who encounter sexual harassment in the workplace.
With more testimony and more witnesses to come, committee members indicated they still were undecided over which witness to believe after more than 10 hours of testimony.
"Here we are in a perplexed situation, and trying to get to the bottom of it," said Heflin as the panel prepared to shut down for the night. "We're still faced with the fact that if she's lying, why?"
Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) also was cautious. "Because we are hearing this allegation," he told Thomas, "does not mean that we assume the allegation is correct. This has not been decided. Tell us what you know. We're trying to determine what happened."
Barring new action by the Judiciary Committee--or a possible withdrawal of the nomination by the White House or Thomas himself--the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination Tuesday.
Seated behind the long green-felt-covered table, her slight frame barely rising above it, Hill answered questions in a neutral, almost clinical tone.
In what she called "one of the oddest episodes," Hill recalled being in Thomas' office when he picked up a can of soft drink that was on his desk. She said he held up the can and asked: "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"
Hill said Thomas had begun asking her out "approximately three months" after she became his special counsel at the Department of Education in 1981. She said she rebuffed him, but he was not easily put off.
Later, Hill said, Thomas began talking to her about pornographic movies he had seen involving women with large breasts having group sex, having sex with animals and being raped. Such talk, she said, left her "embarrassed and humiliated" and "extremely uncomfortable."
Hill said all these conversations occurred either in Thomas' office or her own or in a restaurant or government cafeteria, and thus could not have been overheard.
"Implicit in this discussion of sex was the offer to have sex with him," Hill added. "Given his other conversations, I took that to mean we ought to have sex or we ought to look at these pornographic movies together."
For his part, Thomas also repeatedly criticized the confirmation process that had left him answering such charges in public. "This is a circus," he said angrily in late-evening testimony that followed Hill's appearance. "This is a national disgrace" that is damaging not only the nominee but the country.
He also, for the first time in memory, publicly implied that some of the all-white committee's toughness in airing the charges publicly might be racially motivated--a turnabout for Thomas, who traditionally has expressed pride that he has been able to overcome racial handicaps.
At one point, he said the hearing "is a message that unless you kowtow to the old order, this is what will happen to you. You'll be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."
Earlier, Thomas had struck a note of defiance, warning that he would not answer questions concerning his own private life or sexual affairs. "I will not allow this committee or anyone to probe into my private life," he said. "I am not going to allow myself to be further humiliated in order to be confirmed."
Thomas said if he is not confirmed, he would "go on . . . I'll live, I'll have my life back. . . . There is no pity for me. I think the country has been hurt by this process."
"We have gone far beyond McCarthyism," he said, referring to the hard-line tactics used by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) in trying to prosecute American communists during the 1950s. "This is more dangerous than McCarthyism."
But he stunned some panel members by telling the committee that he had not watched Hill's testimony, which had been carried on national television for the bulk of the day. "I've heard enough lies," he said, dismissing her appearance.
Thomas also told the panel that he never asked Hill out socially during the three years she worked for him at the Department of Education and then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ending in 1983, and never discussed sexual matters with her.
And he denied, under late-evening questioning by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), each of the charges Hill had made--including some in which she quoted him as having talked about his sexual prowess and asking about a "pubic hair" on a soft-drink can that was in his office.
"I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment," the embattled nominee declared, as his wife, Virginia, and his chief Senate sponsor, Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), sat stiffly behind him.
"If you really want an idea (of how I work), ask the majority of women who have worked for me," he later told the panel. "I have worked with hundreds of women. . . . If you really want to be fair, you parade all of them up here . . . and ask them."
He described Hill in testimony as a competent aide whose "somewhat aloof" demeanor occasionally created "problems" among other staffers. But he said their relationship was cordial and he sometimes drove her home, occasionally stopping to talk politics over a Coke.
While it came as no surprise that Hill and Thomas contradicted one another, the graphic details of some of Hill's allegations clearly struck many senators as astonishing, forcing them to proceed gingerly as they pressed her for more details.
While Hill was still testifying, President Bush left the White House for a weekend at Camp David, Md., declining to discuss whether Thomas might withdraw his nomination. White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said later: "There's never been any hint of that."
Earlier, Bush hailed Thomas' opening monologue as a "very, very powerful and moving statement."
"The American people are fair," Bush said, repeating his confidence that Thomas would win confirmation. "They are basically fair and they know character when they see it. And today they saw a decent, honest man speaking from the heart."
In his statement, Thomas said that when he learned of Hill's allegations from FBI agents on Sept. 25, he was "shocked, surprised, hurt and enormously saddened. I have not been the same since that day," he declared.
At another point, he said: "I have never in all my life felt such hurt, such pain, such agony. My family and I have been done a grave and irreparable injustice."
When Thomas entered the hearing room, his eyes were bloodshot--apparently from having stayed up late into the night to prepare for the hearing. Indeed as he noted when he began: "No one other than my wife and Sen. Danforth, to whom I read this statement at 6:30 a.m., has seen or heard this statement. No handlers, no advisers."
Thomas' entry into the heavily policed hearing room Friday morning was telegraphed well in advance by the loud applause and cheers from many supporters lining the broad, marbled corridors of the Russell Senate Office Building.
As the session got under way, Biden insisted that the hearing would be merely "fact-finding" in nature. But the session quickly took on the air of a criminal trial as Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a former Pennsylvania prosecutor, began questioning Hill aggressively, challenging both her allegations and her own behavior.
Although Hill's voice quivered occasionally as she began to describe the ordeal she said she had gone through, she was calm and unfaltering through most of the questioning.
As she testified, her 79-year-old parents, flanked by some of their other children and a battery of attorneys, sat behind her, listening intently.
Under repeated questioning by senators, Hill, who is 35, said she had no ulterior motive for making the allegations. "I can only tell you what happened," she said. "I felt that he was using his power and authority over me."
Under questioning by Specter, Hill disputed several statements given to authorities by Thomas supporters that sought to challenge her credibility. She also insisted that she bore no ill feelings toward the man who she says harassed her repeatedly.
Hill conceded that she called Thomas at his EEOC office 11 times between Jan. 30, 1984 and Nov. 1, 1990--as suggested by a telephone log kept by Thomas' then-secretary, Diane Holt, and released to the press on Tuesday by Danforth.
But she asserted that each call was "made in a professional context," including three that were on behalf of a group that had asked her help in persuading Thomas to make an appearance in Oklahoma to deliver a speech.
She also said she had told the FBI agents that she would be willing to undergo a polygraph, or lie-detector, test.
Hill also addressed the question of why, despite Thomas' alleged harassment at the Department of Education, she joined him when he left to become chairman of the EEOC.
She said that since Thomas had been a political appointee, she was fearful that his successor would hire his own special assistant to replace her. She said she accepted another post working for Thomas partly because the job market was tight at the time, and then-President Ronald Reagan had expressed a desire to eliminate the Education Department.
Much of the questioning during Hill's appearance centered on how she came to make the allegations about Thomas to the committee--whether she had offered them voluntarily or in response to a request by the panel for information, as she earlier contended.
Hill said Friday she was first contacted last Sept. 4 by Gail Lasiter, a counsel on a Senate Labor subcommittee headed by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).