Sex, Lies and Politics: He Said, She Said

As the nation looks on, two credible, articulate witnesses present irreconcilable views of what happened nearly a decade ago

  • Terry Ashe / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

    Clarence Thomas is sworn in on the first day of his confirmation hearing, September, 1991.

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    Then Thomas enlarged his field of pain. He spoke of the long ordeal — 105 days by week's end — that he had endured since his nomination to the Supreme Court, of reporters picking through his garbage cans and poring over his divorce papers. "This is not American; this is Kafkaesque. It has got to stop. It must stop for the benefit of future nominees and our country. Enough is enough," he declared, emphasizing each word.

    "No job is worth what I've been through — no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don't confirm me if you are so led." Said he: "I will not provide the rope for my own lynching. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private."

    The tone of his opening statement was so bitter, in fact, that many listeners thought he was leading up to a withdrawal of his candidacy. But he stopped short of that, apparently determined to clear his name even if he could not salvage his place on the court. "I would have preferred an assassin's bullet to this kind of living hell," he said the next day. But still, he insisted, he would "rather die than withdraw."

    Friday night, after Hill concluded her testimony, Thomas again took his place behind the green-draped table to answer questions. But this time his pain had given way to raw anger. "I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today." He called the hearing a travesty, a circus, a national disgrace. During his two days of testimony, Thomas returned repeatedly to a central theme of his rebuttal: that he was the victim of a racially motivated attack. "I cannot shake off these accusations because they play to the worst stereotypes we have about black men in this country," he angrily declared.

    In his second appearance on Friday, he made an astounding statement: he had not even listened to Hill's testimony. Thomas' wife Virginia, however, watched parts of it and reported back to her husband. When Democratic Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama suggested to Thomas that only he could put the lie to Hill's claims, Thomas snapped back, "I am incapable of proving the negative. It did not occur."

    Defiant, defensive and plainly fed up with the process, Thomas answered further questions tersely, as the Senators played back Hill's charges to him. "No." "Absolutely not, Senator." "It never occurred." The process, he asserted, was "drowning my life, my career and my integrity. You have robbed me of something that can never be restored."

    At only one point did he offer a hint of anything that might smack of a personal relationship with Hill. "I would drive her home and sometimes stop in and have a Coke or a beer or something and continue arguing about politics for maybe 45 minutes to an hour," he said. "But I never thought anything of it." Later, Thomas elaborated on this aspect of their relationship by stating that there were a "number of instances" when he visited Hill's home while working with her at the Education Department.

    Thomas' two sessions of angry rebuttal were compelling. But even so riveting an appearance could not mitigate the impact of Hill's own eight hours of virtually uninterrupted testimony. In her own opening statement, she spoke first about the general nature of her office exchanges with Thomas while working under his supervision, initially at the Department of Education's office for civil rights in 1981 and '82, then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to '83. "He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes," she alleged. "He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts. On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess."

    The most charged moments came when she offered specific details about Thomas' alleged behavior. One of the "oddest episodes," she said, involved an exchange in Thomas' office when he reached for a can of Coke and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?" (Later, Hatch accused Hill of stealing the story from a work of fiction. Holding aloft a copy of the book The Exorcist, Hatch quoted, "There seems to be an alien pubic hair in my gin.") On other occasions, Hill maintained, "he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal" and spoke of the pleasure he had "given to women with oral sex."

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