A Perjurer on the US Supreme Court
In late 1998, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about a sexual affair, many on the Right insisted that the issue wasn’t the sex but the perjury. They are now confronted with a parallel case in which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas quite clearly perjured himself to get his seat on the bench.
On Friday, former federal prosecutor Lillian McEwen, one of Thomas’s girlfriends in the 1980s, broke a long silence and confirmed that Thomas did engage in sexual harassment of women at work and did discuss pornography in the way that Anita Hill and other women described to the Senate during Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991.
During those hearings, Thomas angrily denied the allegations, calling them “a high-tech lynching.” Simultaneously, his right-wing allies mounted an aggressive campaign to destroy the credibility of Hill and other accusers.
The tactics worked. Thomas narrowly won Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he has remained a reliable vote for every right-wing position that the justices consider.
However, it is now obvious that Thomas committed perjury as a necessary element of gaining his seat as one of nine justices on the Supreme Court – and only its second African-American. Though perjury before Congress is a felony, the Right appears to have suddenly lost its enthusiasm for demanding impeachment as the proper remedy for high officials caught lying under oath.
The new evidence of Thomas’s perjury emerged this past week following a bizarre voice-mail message that Thomas’s wife, Virginia, left for Anita Hill asking her to retract her testimony and to apologize to Justice Thomas. Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, rejected the request and reiterated that she was telling the truth 19 years ago.
But Mrs. Thomas’s voice mail had an unexpected consequence. It spurred McEwen, now 65, to speak up in an interview with the Washington Post, which appeared in Friday’s editions.
Thomas "was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners," McEwen told the Post. "It was a hobby of his."
That was a key point that Hill had raised in her televised testimony in 1991, that Thomas treated women – especially black women – as if they were prey for his sexual stalking.
Hill said Thomas had repeatedly and inappropriately pressed her for dates, including making lewd comments about pornography and once suggesting that he had detected a pubic hair on a Coke can.
“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,” Hill testified. “On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”
Thomas denied everything and cast aspersions on Hill’s credibility.
"If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, or the other individuals who heard bits and pieces of it or various levels of it," Thomas told the Senate Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony.
But McEwen told the Post that during their relationship over several years in the 1980s – while they worked together at two federal agencies – Thomas made sexual remarks in the work place, including comments about hard-core pornographic movies that he had watched.
"He was obsessed with porn," McEwen said. "He would talk about what he had seen in magazines and films, if there was something worth noting."
McEwen said Thomas also would discuss the breast sizes of women at work, expressing special interest in women with large breasts. McEwen recalled him being so impressed with the endowments of one government employee that he asked the woman her breast size.
McEwen’s statement corroborated the testimony of not only Hill but the statements made by two other women to the Senate Judiciary Committee, though those women were not called to testify.
Regarding Thomas’s obsession with women’s breasts, Angela Wright, who was one of Thomas’s subordinates at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told Senate investigators that Thomas pestered her for dates and once asked her, "What size are your breasts?"
As the Post article noted, Wright’s story was backed up by a former EEOC speechwriter, who told investigators that Wright had become increasingly uneasy around Thomas because of his comments about her appearance.
But the Republicans challenged Wright’s objectivity because Thomas had fired her and because she had an otherwise spotty employment record. Those concerns caused Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Delaware, to shy away from calling her as a witness.
Still, the Senate panel had other corroboration of the Hill-Wright complaints. Sukari Hardnett, who worked as a special assistant to Thomas in 1985 and 1986, wrote in a letter to the committee that "If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female" by Thomas.
Though Thomas's Republican supporters called several friendly women as character references for Thomas, he apparently feared what McEwen might say if she went public in 1991. McEwen told the Post that Thomas wrote her a short note before the confirmation hearing coaching her on what she should say if asked about their relationship.
McEwen said Thomas encouraged her to take "the same attitude of his first wife" and decline to say anything, advice that McEwen followed for 19 years.
A Right-Wing Campaign
Beyond the seemingly obvious point that Thomas committed perjury to gain his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, there is also the ugliness of how the Republicans and the Right sought to victimize the women who already had been victims of Thomas’s predatory behavior. To accomplish that, an early form of the modern right-wing news media swung into action.
Though still in its pre-Fox News days, the right-wing media used its print outlets and its presence on TV and radio chat shows to demonize Hill and the others.
David Brock, then an aspiring right-wing hatchet man at The American Spectator, struck it rich by smearing Hill with the infamous description of her as “a little bit slutty and a little bit nutty.” He followed that up with a full-length assault in a best-selling book entitled The Real Anita Hill, which further denounced Hill and defended Thomas.
Brock skyrocketed to fame and fortune as the exemplar of conservative investigative journalism. However, Brock’s career path was complicated by the fact that he was gay and that the “family values” conservative movement viewed homosexuality as a sin and a perversion.
Though Brock continued as a well-paid right-wing spear-carrier into the Clinton administration, starting the spread of sexual innuendo against Bill and Hillary Clinton that would culminate in the impeachment crisis in 1998-99, Brock gradually rebelled against his personal hypocrisy.
In 2002, after his right-wing propaganda had inflicted grievous damage on individuals and the nation, Brock recanted. In a new book, Blinded by the Right, he admitted that he had defamed a number of his targets, including Anita Hill and the Clintons.
Brock also described the inner workings of the campaign to destroy Hill. Brock wrote that the propaganda operation was aided and abetted by President George H.W. Bush’s White House and right-wing federal judges.
For instance, Brock wrote that he received support and encouragement from U.S. Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman and Silberman’s wife, Ricky. Even after Thomas had won Senate confirmation, Silberman still was pushing attack lines against Hill, Brock wrote.
After Bush-41’s White House slipped Brock a psychiatric opinion claiming that Hill suffered from “erotomania,” Silberman met with Brock to suggest even more colorful criticism of Hill.
“Silberman speculated that Hill was a lesbian ‘acting out’,” Brock wrote. “Besides, Silberman confided, Thomas would never have asked Hill for dates: She had bad breath.”
In 1993, after Brock published his book-length assault on Hill, the Silbermans and other prominent conservatives joined a celebration at the Embassy Row Ritz-Carlton, Brock wrote, noting that also in attendance was Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle, whom Chief Justice William Rehnquist had put in charge of picking special prosecutors to investigate the Clinton administration. [For more on Silberman and Sentelle, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
These right-wing operatives – masquerading as jurists and journalists – had no regard for what was fair or true. They were committed to gaining or holding power for their ideological and personal benefit and doing so by whatever means were necessary.
Though Thomas was safely ensconced on the Supreme Court bench, the organized Right continued to target Hill. Right-wing activists pressured her employer, the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, to fire her, contributing to her decision to resign in 1996. However, the following year, she landed a teaching job at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
The long-running assault on Hill apparently had the goal of wearing her down and eventually coercing her into recanting her testimony, a development which could then have been used to discredit anyone who had defended Hill. That strategy – the notion that eventually Hill would buckle – apparently led Thomas’s current wife, who herself is a right-wing activist, to press Hill for an apology in a voice mail this month.
As it turned out, Virginia Thomas’s request backfired, bringing out of the shadows another compelling witness to Clarence Thomas’s vile personal behavior – and to his perjury.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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