WASHINGTON -- Clarence Thomas, accused of making a former employee a victim of sexual harassment, sought Friday to paint himself as the real victim and a target of scurrilous and humiliating allegations.
During a defiant personal defense to the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday, Thomas attempted to shift the focus of the hearing away from accusations of sexual harassment -- which he denies -- and toward the agony he has endured since President Bush nominated him to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court.
Thomas said since Bush in July nominated Thomas, a conservative federal appeals court judge, to the nation's highest judicial body, he has endured one assault after another.
'From the very beginning, charges were leveled against me from the shadows -- charges of drug abuse, anti-semitism, wife-beating, drug use by family members, that I was a quota appointment, confirmation conversion (involving changing of views to facilitate confirmation) and much more. And now this.'
He said reporters had entered his garage in his suburban Virginia to find out what books he reads, special interest groups opposed to his confirmation swarmed over his divorce papers from his first marriage, the media has relied on unnamed sources to peddle 'preposterous rumors' -- and now he must respond to charges he claims are completely unfounded.
The accusations made by Anita Hill, a University of Oklahoma law professor who was an employee of Thomas in two government agencies in the early 1980s, have sparked a national debate on the issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
'I am a victim of the process,' Thomas told the 14 members of the committee. 'My name as been harmed. My character has been harmed. My family has been harmed. My friends have been harmed. I will not provide the rope for my own lynching or for further humiliation.'
Thomas added: 'God has gotten me through the days since Sept. 25 (when he was first informed that Hill made the allegations) and he is my judge.'
Hill's allegations surfaced last weekend after Hill's confidential charges made to the committee were leaked to newspaper and radio reporters. Faced with a political monsoon, the Senate, bitterly divided and battered by accusations of insensitivity to sexual harassment charges, authorized hearings to give Thomas and Hill a chance to air their versions of the events under oath and in public.
Thomas called the timing of the allegations an 'apparently calculated public disclosure.'
'I have suffered immensely as these very serious charges were leveled against me,' Thomas said.
'I cannot imagine anything that I said or did to Anita Hill that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment,' Thomas added. 'But, with that said, is there is anything that I have said that has been misconstrued by Anita Hill or anyone else to be sexual harassment, then I can say that I am so very sorry and I wish I had known.'
'If I did know, I would have stopped immediately and I would not, as I have done over the past two weeks, had to tear away at myself trying to think of what I could possibly have done,' Thomas said. 'But I have not said or done the things that Anita Hill has alleged.'
In her testimony before the panel just moments later, Hill said Thomas repeatedly and unsuccessfully pressured her for dates, humiliated her by graphically describing pornographic films depicting rape and sexual conduct involving women and animals and bragged about his own sexual prowess and penis size.
Without directly calling Hill a liar, Thomas was steadfast in his denial. He also said the charges have left him disillusioned.
'During the past two weeks, I lost the belief that if I did my best, all would work out,' Thomas said. 'I called upon the strength that helped me get out of Pin Point (his rural Georgia hometown) and it was all sapped out of me. It was sapped out of me because Anita Hill was a person I considered a friend, who I admired and thought I had treated fairly and with the utmost respect.'
Thomas also said the shabby treatment of Supreme Court nominees 'must stop'. The confirmation process has become increasingly politicized since the 1987 defeat of noted conservative Robert Bork.