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From the archives: The Thomas Charge: Law professor told the FBI he sexually harassed her

Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas Credit: AP Photo/Greg Gibson

Washington - This story was originally published in Newsday on Oct. 6, 1991.

A University of Oklahoma law professor told the FBI last month she was sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas while working for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The White House said last night that it had ordered a "full thorough and expeditious" investigation of the allegation by the FBI on Sept 23. After reviewing the FBI's report the White House "determined that the allegation was unfounded" said deputy press secretary Judy Smith.

President George Bush "continues to believe that Judge Thomas is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and expects him to be confirmed promptly," the White House statement said. But Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who opposes the nomination, called last night for postponement of the Senate vote scheduled for Tuesday.

The professor, Anita F. Hill, told the FBI that Thomas repeatedly discussed sexual matters with her in a suggestive way while she worked for the job discrimination monitoring agency in Washington, according to a source who has seen her statement to the FBI. Thomas was separated from his first wife at the time.

Hill confirmed yesterday that she had told agents she was harassed by Thomas, but declined to discuss with Newsday the details.

"He made suggestions to her about what kind of sex she engaged in, asking her in great detail about different forms of sex," said the source who had access to the FBI documents.

Thomas repeatedly asked Hill to go out with him, making it clear that he was interested in more than that, the source said.

While Thomas implicitly pressured Hill to have sex with him, he never told her explicitly that she would lose her job if she did not, the source said.

Hill said last night the harassment began when she first worked for Thomas at the Department of Education in 1981. The harassment stopped for a while and she thought it was over, but it began again when she went to work for him at the EEOC, she said.

Thomas could not be reached immediately for comment yesterday.

Phyllis Berry Myers, who worked for Thomas at the same time that Hill did, said she was not aware of any such allegations against the chairman and that he had lived "a monastic life."

Simon, reached last night at a college reunion in Nebraska, called for a postponement of the Senate's scheduled vote Tuesday on Thomas' nomination.

"I think it is a serious enough charge that the committee ought to look at it and if necessary the vote ought to be postponed," Simon said.

Simon said he and most other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were not aware of the allegations when they voted on the nomination, though he has since read the FBI report.

"I would say it adds to the credibility concern," Simon said, referring to allegations that Thomas had tailored his testimony to suit the committee. But he said he could not go into detail. "It's difficult to discuss because I'm not able to discuss the FBI report," he said.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, (R-Utah), said last night that all committee members did know of the woman's allegation before the vote.

The White House said the report was completed on Sept. 26, the day before the committee vote.

"Frankly it's false and it's typical of the way they are trying to smear various nominees," Hatch said. He said he was furious that the report was made public and intended to "kick some tail" on the Senate floor tomorrow.

Sen. Allan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) asked in an interview why Hill had not brought the matter up earlier.

"Why didn't the woman pursue it? What is the reason for bringing it up if the person never pursued it?" he said.

Hill did not file a formal complaint at the time but confided in a friend. The FBI has interviewed the unidentified friend who corroborated that Hill had confided in her, the source said.

Hill said last night that she had not filed a complaint because she was afraid of retribution and because there was no one she felt she could turn to.

"Who would I file it with? He was the chairman of the EEOC," Hill asked.

"I really had no intention of going public to the press with this statement," she said, saying she did not want to discuss such intimate details in public. "I had really only wanted and only intended to speak to the committee. My efforts to do that were not followed through on as promised by the committee as far as I could tell."

"I really thought there might be some retaliation. . . . he was someone in an administration that was fairly powerful."

The FBI investigation of Hill's allegations took place after the beginning of last month's hearings by the committee. The information has been closely held by the Judiciary Committee. Several senators have read the reports, which are supposed to remain confidential, according to Senate staffers.

The White House last night released the following statement to Newsday.

"On Sept. 23, the allegation was brought to the attention of the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee immediately informed the White House. In consultation with the committee, the White House promptly directed the FBI to conduct a full, thorough and expeditious investigation. Upon completion of the FBI investigation on Sept. 26, the report was submitted to the White House and the committee. The White House reviewed the report and determined that the allegation was unfounded. The president continues to believe that Judge Thomas is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and expects him to be confirmed promptly."

One senator, an opponent of Thomas who read the report and an accompanying statement by Hill, said he thought it could make a substantial difference when the Senate votes on Thomas.

A thin majority of Republicans and conservative Democrats have already indicated they plan to vote in favor of Thomas. He said that because of its confidentiality little could be done with the information because she had not come forward publicly.

Some opponents hammered Thomas repeatedly at the hearings for what they said was a lack of zeal in prosecuting allegations of racial and sexual discrimination in the eight years he was at the EEOC.

Hill graduated from Yale Law School in 1980, six years after Thomas. She was his special counsel when he was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education in 1981. When he became chairman of the EEOC in 1982, she worked as his legal adviser until 1983.

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