WASHINGTON — As senators prepare to hear from Christine Blasey Ford about her accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Republican senators who voted to confirm Clarence Thomas 27 years ago won’t talk about Anita Hill, the accuser they didn’t believe in 1991.
"That's not a question for today. I'm not going to answer that,” Sen. Orrin Hatch said on Wednesday when asked whether he still thinks Hill lied during her testimony in 1991.
Hatch didn’t answer follow-up questions about whether he thought the process then was fair, when witnesses who said they would support Hill’s story were never called to testify. As in 1991, Democrats have pushed for witnesses that Ford says were present when she was assaulted by Kavanaugh to be called to testify under oath, but so far Republicans, including Hatch, have rebuffed those requests.
At the time, Hatch said Hill had been “coached by special interest groups” and that her allegations were “too contrived” and “slick.” He has cast similar doubts on Ford’s allegations and those of the two other women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.
As recently as 2010, Hatch reiterated that he still thought Hill was lying and said that she should apologize to Thomas and his wife. "Look, I was there. I know this more intimately than almost anybody," he said at the time. "And I can tell you that Clarence Thomas was telling the truth."
Two other top Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley, who currently heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, heard from Hill and voted to confirm Thomas in 1991. This week, they did not respond to questions about whether they think Hill was lying. BuzzFeed News reached out to roughly a dozen staffers who worked on Thomas’s confirmation as well. All of them did not respond or declined to comment.
Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who was a Democrat in 1991 but later switched parties, also voted to confirm Thomas after hearing Hill’s testimony, but he wouldn’t say much about Hill when asked this week if he had changed his mind about her testimony.
“I just think the process ought to work. That’s what I thought then. That’s what I say here: You’ve got an accused, you’ve got an accuser. Let the process work. That’s what it’s about,” he said.
Their silence on Hill comes despite the fact that her appearance 27 years ago looms over the Kavanaugh confirmation. The journalists Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, who covered the hearings at the time, wrote a exhaustive investigation into the claims made by both Hill and Thomas at the time, ultimately siding with Hill in their 1994 book Strange Justice.
And Hill reemerged as a prominent academic and commentator who now heads a commission on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and frequently speaks out on the topic — including in a recent New York Times op-ed in support of Ford. And she has continued to gain a following among Democrats who believe her honesty was vindicated long ago.
The view on from the conservative movement is the opposite: Thomas has since emerged as conservative hero on the court, a man who survived what he then called a “high-tech lynching.” Top conservatives still don't believe Anita Hill.
Indeed, many conservative commentators are drawing parallels between Hill and Ford in recent weeks, suggesting that both women invented allegations to smear conservative judges.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch and a frequent Fox News guest, told BuzzFeed News both Hill and Ford “are reluctant witnesses, because I don’t think their stories would hold up under too much scrutiny.”
“Partisans and leftists, Democrats, have created another mythology. Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court because people didn’t believe Anita Hill,” he said.
Fitton said he doesn’t think Hill was a credible witness, and that “Clarence Thomas effectively countered her testimony and was supported by the women he worked with.”
But he said he thinks that with Ford, “maybe this person believes something happened to her, or something happened to her, and the question is if she’s able to convince anyone credibly that Kavanaugh is behind it. And that’s the hurdle she’s been unable to meet with anything she’s presented so far.”
Sean Hannity, a Fox News celebrity and Trump ally, has been comparing the confirmation process for Kavanaugh and Thomas on both his TV show and radio program, making it clear he thinks Thomas was the subject of "vile" attacks.
"I’ll never forget you know Clarence Thomas having to defend his name and honor, and the absolute viciousness of attacks against him," Hannity said in June on his radio show before the allegations against Kavanaugh surfaced.
"One of the most powerful moments of testimony I can recall in my lifetime, and one of the most vicious, vile, unfair attacks against any one individual, in Justice Thomas's case, because he happened to be an African American that was a conservative. It was vicious."
He has since continued to defend Kavanaugh, repeatedly drawing parallels between him and Thomas. "But what you are seeing is a political tactic that we have seen many times," Hannity said on his Fox News show last week. "They did it to Judge Bork. They did it to Judge Clarence Thomas, and now it's Judge Kavanaugh. So, you also have a right to be skeptical."
Ann Coulter in a tweet this week suggested the allegations were lucrative for Hill and could be for Ford as well.
Laura Ingraham, another Fox News host and former clerk to Thomas, brought up the parallels to Hill’s allegations against Thomas and went on to criticize Hill’s statement supporting Ford.
"Democrats have been salivating for another Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill–like spectacle to use as leverage against Republicans in the fall and maybe get some female voters while they’re at it.
"Anita Hill dropped a statement designed to insulate the accuser from any criticism, and frankly, from any meaningful questioning.”
Ingraham got a rare TV interview with Thomas last year.
Tarini Parti contributed reporting to this story.
Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court 27 years ago. An earlier version of this story misstated how long ago it took place.