A special Senate investigator said Tuesday that he could not determine who secretly told reporters last fall about Anita Faye Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
As a result, a four-month inquiry involving more than 200 witnesses and thousands of pages of documents ended where it began: The Senate and the public still don’t know who was responsible for news leaks that created an uproar and delayed the confirmation vote on Thomas one week so the Senate Judiciary Committee could reopen its hearings.
“We are unable to identify any source of these disclosures,” Peter E. Fleming Jr., the Senate’s special independent counsel, said in his report to the Senate. “The evidence indicates there were multiple sources.”
The investigation was authorized by the Senate after the end of the sexually explicit hearings, which brought widespread criticism of the all-male Judiciary Committee for its questioning of Hill, a University of Oklahoma professor. Thomas was later confirmed by the Senate on a 52-48 vote.
Reporters Timothy Phelps of Newsday and Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio broke stories last Oct. 6 reporting that Hill had told the Judiciary Committee privately about Thomas’ alleged behavior.
Citing First Amendment protections of press freedom, Phelps and Totenberg refused to answer investigators’ questions about the confidential sources who provided the information and the Senate Rules Committee declined to compel them to testify. Fleming was unable to determine by other means how they learned about Hill’s statements.
The Fleming report concluded that neither Totenberg nor Phelps had access to an FBI report about an interview with Hill in which she made the allegations. His report said, however, that Totenberg had a copy of a written statement Hill sent to the Judiciary Committee, while Phelps did not.
“We find Totenberg’s source was a person within the Senate, and not Anita Hill,” the report concluded. “The evidence indicates that Phelps’ source was a person who had seen Hill’s statement but had not seen the FBI report.”
The Senate investigators interviewed Hill and obtained copies of her telephone records as well as records of calls made from every telephone in the University of Oklahoma law school. They found that she faxed her statement to the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 23 and sent a revised copy two days later.
She also faxed a copy on Sept. 25 to James Brudney, a staff member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee working for Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), whom she knew from Yale law school. The report said Brudney kept the document until Oct. 7, but that he denied giving a copy to anyone.
“We have no evidence of communication between Brudney and Totenberg or any other journalist,” the report said.
Investigators established that the contents of an FBI report on Hill’s charges was never disseminated outside the Senate “in whole or in part,” the report said, despite the impression created at the time by news reports of her allegations.
Yet word about her charges began circulating in Washington shortly after Hill transmitted her statement to the committee.
“There is evidence that by Saturday, Sept. 28, knowledge of Hill’s allegations and, to some extent, the FBI investigation was beginning to spread among the interested Washington community,” the report said. “The allegations were mentioned during at least two dinner parties Saturday evening and made their way back to Judiciary Committee staffers.”
In one of its findings, the special counsel cleared Susan Hoerchner, a friend of Hill’s, of any responsibility for release of the Hill statement. Hoerchner testified during the hearing that Hill had told her about Thomas’ alleged actions a decade earlier.
The report also said the special Senate investigation failed to find the source of leaks from the Senate Ethics Committee inquiry into the dealings that five senators had with Charles H. Keating Jr., owner of Lincoln Federal Savings & Loan.
Washington Times reporter Paul Rodriguez, who printed one of the stories based on the ethics panel’s deliberations, also refused to testify about his sources for the story.