Anita Hill Re-Emerges As Hero Of #MeToo Movement, But Testimony Fell Short
Sensing an opportunity for newfound relevance, Anita Hill has been doing the rounds in media as a subject matter expert on the Brett Kavanaugh allegation, hoping a new generation too young to know and faded memories of others will gloss over why her own accusations were not seen as credible in 1991.
Hill, the law professor who accused then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment says she got a raw deal when she testified against him over 25 years ago.
“The reluctance of someone to come forward demonstrates that even in the #MeToo era, it remains incredibly difficult to report harassment, abuse or assault by people in power,” she said in a statement to The Daily Beast, referencing the 35-year old sexual misconduct accusation bandied against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford.
She added, “I have seen firsthand what happens when such a process is weaponized against an accuser, and no one should have to endure that again.”
Hill elaborated on her statement in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday and gave her suggestions as to how lawmakers should handle a public hearing similar to the one she and Thomas were involved in, criticizing the members who questioned her at the time.
“The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence,” she writes. “The job of the Senate Judiciary Committee is to serve as fact-finders, to better serve the American public, and the weight of the government should not be used to destroy the lives of witnesses who are called to testify.”
The media celebrated Hill’s return, and Jeffrey Toobin at CNN even suggested she be an “expert witness” at Monday’s Kavanaugh-Ford hearing. Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Eugene Brown viewed the upcoming hearing as a do-over for lawmakers “to respond better than they did to Hill.”
ABC News chief political analyst Matthew Dowd called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a “sexual predator” in a tweet Monday.
Foggy memories since the famous 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings and the advent of the #MeToo era have motivated Hill’s supporters to believe she will be vindicated if Kavanaugh’s confirmation is derailed, but documented evidence of the case shows a more muddled picture around the veracity of Hill’s testimony.
According to The New York Times, fifty-eight percent of Americans polled in a Times/CBS survey believed Thomas over Hill immediately following the hearing. The Times noted there was “little difference in response between men and women, or between blacks and whites.”
Even The Washington Post editorial board at the time did not find Hill’s accusations credible, endorsing Thomas’s confirmation.
“After three days of extraordinary testimony and procedure, it seemed to us that the weaknesses in the account Prof. Hill set out were not dispelled and sufficient additional support for her position did not materialize,” The Post stated.
How did this happen? Testimony and interviews to the Senate Judiciary Committee, its staff and the FBI by Hill and witnesses appeared to be the undoing of public perception of her case against Thomas.
First, Hill repeatedly told the Judiciary Committee, according to then-Chairman Joe Biden, that she wanted her name to be kept confidential from the full committee, as well as Thomas himself.
“Professor Hill specifically stated that she wanted her allegation to be kept completely confidential; she did not want the nominee to know her identity. Rather, she said that she wanted to share her concerns only with the committee to ‘remove responsibility’ and ‘take it out of [her] hands,'” Biden said in his statement. Hill, instead, asked for “options” so she wouldn’t have to “abandon” her concerns about being identified.
After initially refusing to go through an FBI interview, as it would then be required to inform Thomas of her identity, Biden’s statement says, Hill eventually relented and sent a personal statement about her allegations to the committee and the bureau sent the committee its report about Hill’s claims. Hill went on to testify before the committee.
The FBI agents who previously interviewed her, though, signed an affidavit stating that Hill made statements during her testimony about Thomas that contradicted what she said in her interview with them.
Most famously, Hill alleged in her testimony before the committee that Thomas bragged about the size of his genitals, referenced pornographic material called “Long Dong Silver, and made an additional lewd comment about a Coke can.
Thomas vehemently denied the Hill accusations and called the hearing a “high-tech lynching.” The FBI agents who interviewed Hill said in their affidavit she never mentioned these key details to them.
Another signed affidavit by an FBI agent described how Hill revealed in her public testimony that she made several telephone contacts with committee staffers, as well as her personal friend Susan Hoerchner, before she prepared her statement for the committee, but she failed mention the phone calls during her interview with the FBI.
Hill worked as Thomas’s special assistant at the Department of Education (DOE) starting in 1981, and she later followed Thomas to his job at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter questioned Hill about why she followed Thomas to EEOC, despite claiming he began harassing her at DOE.
Hill alleged she was not assured of her job at the DOE after Thomas announced his departure, because of her status as a political appointee.
Specter asked if she had little to fear about losing her job, given that she was a schedule A attorney — a career civil servant.
“As a schedule A attorney, you could have stayed in some job?” Specter asked.
“As far as I know, I could have, but I am not sure because at the time the agency was scheduled to be abolished,” Hill responded. President Ronald Reagan campaigned in 1980 on shutting down the DOE, but Democrats held the majority in the House at the time, so there was never a chance for such an event to occur.
Hill later went on to say it was Thomas who told her he could not assure her job would be secure at the DOE. Additionally, she said she made no further inquiries to anyone in the department about her job.
Nevertheless, Harry Singleton, Thomas’s successor at DOE submitted an affidavit stating that Hill was indeed a civil servant whose job was secure at the department.
“As I recall, Ms. Hill was a Schedule A attorney. As such, she had career rights. If Ms. Hill was being harassed by Judge Thomas and did not feel comfortable continuing to work with him, she could have remained at OCR,” he said.
Singleton added, “Had she approached me, and she did not, to request that she remain at OCR, she certainly would have been accommodated. In fact, I was prepared to retain her as one of my attorney advisors, but it was always made very clear that she was going on to EEOC with Judge Thomas.”
Hill testified to the committee she left the EEOC because she was fed up with Thomas’s harassment of her, yet Diane Holt, Thomas’s secretary at the time, testified that according to a phone log she kept, Hill called Thomas several times after her departure from EEOC.
Hill also met with Thomas after she departed EEOC, when he spoke at Oral Roberts Law School in Tulsa. Dean Kothe, former dean of the law school, testified to this and told members at a hearing that Hill enjoyed herself with Thomas at the time and even offered to take him back to the airport. Sen. Specter asked why she would volunteer to drive him to the airport if he treated her so badly before. Hill denied she offered to do so and said she was asked to drive Thomas there.
Twelve former female colleagues of Thomas and Hill from the DOE and EEOC testified or submitted statements supporting Thomas. No former DOE or EEOC co-worker of Hill’s, though, stepped forward to support any of her allegations about Thomas.
Hill submitted names of two women at the EEOC who would corroborate her accusations, but neither would do so. Additionally, Hill’s own witnesses failed to bolster her case. One witness, Angela Wright, was intended to corroborate Hill’s claims, but Wright’s own troubled work history at various federal government posts kept her away from testifying, The Washington Examiner noted.
Another witness, Hill’s friend Hoerchener, alleged to the committee staff that Hill informed her of the alleged harassment in the “spring of 1981.” Hill, though, began working for Thomas in August 1981.
A committee staffer asked Hoerchner if Hill referred to Thomas by name when she conveyed to her that Hill said she was “undergoing sexual harassment at work by her boss,” she responded, “I think she referred to him as Clarence.” Hoerchner eventually declared that she was certain Hill named Thomas.
Thomas was reported out of committee by a split vote and confirmed in the Democratic majority Senate 52-48, but media attacks and against him remain and celebrations of his accuser remain to this day.
For the past 26 years, an “I believe Anita” event is hosted at Columbia College, while supporters of Thomas say the 2016 HBO movie of the event is unfair to the Supreme Court justice.