Former vice president Joe Biden repeatedly said on The View on Friday that he believed Anita Hill from the moment he heard her tale of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. But he previously told Sen. Arlen Specter that it was clear her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee included lies.
“Not only didn’t I vote for Clarence Thomas, I believed her from the beginning. I was against Clarence Thomas, I did everything in my power to defeat Clarence Thomas and he won by the smallest margin anyone ever won going on the Supreme Court,” Biden told “The View’s” Joy Behar.
But in 1998, Biden admitted to Specter that “It was clear to me from the way she was answering the questions, [Hill] was lying” about a key part of her testimony. The exchange was published in Specter’s 2000 memoir, “Passion for Truth: From Finding JFK’s Single Bullet to Questioning Anita Hill to Impeaching Clinton.”
The issue is important, as the media and other partisans rewrite the historical record about Hill and her accusations. The widely watched hearings revealed inaccuracies in Hill’s various versions of events and ended with 58 percent of Americans believing Thomas and only 24 percent believing Hill. There was no gap between the sexes in the results. In the intervening years, activists have relentlessly attempted to change the narrative, writing fan fiction about Hill, bestowing honors on her, and asserting that her disputed allegations were credible.
On “The View,” Biden claimed, “If you go back and look at what I said and didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly. I took on her opposition. What I couldn’t figure out how to do — and we still haven’t figured it out – how do you stop people from asking inflammatory questions?”
Prominent media partisans attacked Specter for asking tough questions of Hill. Or really, just for asking simple questions she struggled to answer. He began by noting that many people had reported Hill had praised Thomas and his nomination to the Supreme Court. These included a former colleague at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where both Hill and Thomas had worked years prior. Another person corroborated the colleague’s claim.
Hill disputed their claims. She also disputed the former dean of her law school, who said she had praised Thomas as a “fine man and an excellent legal scholar.” Then she claimed she didn’t know a woman named Phyllis Barry, who had told The New York Times that Hill’s allegations “were the result of Ms. Hill’s disappointment and frustration that Mr. Thomas did not show any sexual interest in her.”
Under questioning from Specter, in which he mentioned that two colleagues had provided statements attesting that she knew Barry, Hill was forced to concede that she knew her and had worked with her at the EEOC.
Specter then asked about the major contradictions between her testimony to the Senate and her interviews with the FBI. Her testimony with the Senate was much more colorful and descriptive even though it took place just days after her FBI interviews.
Finally he asked Hill about a USA Today article that claimed, “Anita Hill was told by Senate staffers her signed affidavit alleging sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas would be the instrument that ‘quietly and behind the scenes’ would force him to withdraw his name.”
Specter read from the article: “Keith Henderson, a 10-year friend of Hill and former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, says Hill was advised by Senate staffers that her charge would be kept secret and her name kept from public scrutiny.” Later it said, “They would approach Judge Thomas with the information and he would withdraw and not turn this into a big story, Henderson says.”
Specter asked her if this was true, attempting to find out what Senate Democrats had arranged with Hill. Nine times she denied the claim, demurred, or otherwise attempted to get away from the question. She said she could vividly remember events related to Thomas from many years prior, but couldn’t quite remember this conversation from weeks prior. Specter described the scene in the book, and even interviewed Biden about it:
After this exchange Biden recessed the committee. Biden told me in November 1998, ‘It was clear to me from the way she was answering the questions, she was lying.’
‘At that point I truncated the hearing and recessed it early for lunch,’ Biden said. ‘I turned to my chief of staff and said, ‘Go down and tell her lawyers that if her recollection is not refreshed by the time she gets back, I will be compelled to pursue the same line of questioning the Senator [Specter] did. Because it seems to me, she did what he said.’
Biden, as the committee’s chairman and top Democrat, would have carried great sway if he had suggested publicly that Hill was lying when she repeatedly answered questions about Thomas’s potential withdrawal by saying she didn’t remember.
Now that he’s running for president again, Biden may be trying to avoid the reality of Hill’s weak testimony or his role in encouraging her to answer the question forthrightly. But in 1991, when Hill came back from lunch, her story had changed.
“There was some indication that the candidate — excuse me — the nominee might not wish to continue the process,” Hill admitted. Asked to clarify whether a particular staffer had told her that Thomas “might not wish to continue to go forward with his nomination, if you came forward?” Hill again admitted, “Yes.”
The exchange was just one example of why so many Americans outside of the liberal media thought Hill lacked credibility. Specter credited Biden’s warning to Hill about her lies as helping her with her eroding credibility: “Hill’s afternoon modification of her morning testimony, therefore, was not only deliberate but calculated to avoid greater erosion to her credibility.”
There were many problems with Hill’s claims, including that the record showed she had followed Thomas from a protected service job at the Education Department to one at the EEOC. The Yale Law graduate claimed she was confused about whether she could keep her job at the Education Department. She’d also voluntarily accompanied him to a speech, and had repeatedly called him with pleasantries. Thomas’ secretary had kept logs of Hill’s many calls. One message simply said she was calling to check in, for example.
Two FBI special agents swore out an affidavit after Hill’s testimony outlining “contradictions” between her interviews with them and her testimony. Special Agent Jolene Smith Jameson wrote, “Professor Hill made comments that were in contradiction with statements she had made to SAs Jameson and John B. Luton.” They also disputed her characterization of how honest they instructed her to be.
The media, who have defended Hill for decades despite inconsistencies and inaccuracies in her story, are upset that Biden didn’t apologize to Hill. “Biden Struggles to Apologize for Anita Hill’s Treatment, Reassure Women,” read the headline for Bloomberg’s Jennifer Epstein’s “news” story.
On “The View,” one interlocutor told Biden that people were upset he hadn’t allowed other women to testify against Thomas. He explained that he tried to get them to testify, but there were problems and that forcing them to testify may have been worse for Hill. He was understating wildly, referring to the last woman mentioned in this summary of problems with Hill’s alleged witnesses:
Hill’s four alleged corroborating witnesses provided very weak testimony. One witness told Committee staff that the alleged harassment happened before Hill ever worked for Thomas. Another witness claimed that Hill had no political motives to oppose Thomas because she was a conservative who fully supported the Reagan Administration’s civil rights policies. This representation was false. Angela Wright, who many claimed would provide similar testimony as Hill, declined to testify because of serious credibility issues related to her motives and her previous efforts to falsely accuse a supervisor of racism.
Much revisionist history has been drafted by partisans who oppose Thomas’s judicial philosophy. It’s true that Biden did his best to help Hill, including concealing witnesses who would have been a disaster under examination. But even he admitted to his colleague Specter that Hill was lying.
Hill’s allegations against Thomas were far from convincing when she made them, and the passage of time has done nothing to bolster the veracity of her accusations. But based on the uncritical acceptance of the revisionist history of the Clarence Thomas hearings, it’s crystal clear that journalists would do well to familiarize themselves with the actual facts of what happened and call Biden to account for his treatment of Thomas.