WASHINGTON -- The increasingly tense verbal combat over Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas moved on to the full Senate today as its Judiciary Committee ended a bitter, and often dramatic, investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct.
At 2:02 a.m. today, Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr., D-Del., closed the panel's reopened investigation into charges of sexual misconduct by Anita F. Hill, who had worked for Judge Thomas in the governemnt.
Neither Ms. Hill nor Judge Thomas asked to return to the witness stand today, so the renewed hearings on the nomination came to a close. The full Senate has scheduled a final vote on the nomination at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
As the hearing ended, it was newly apparent that the long weekend inquiry had brought the committee no closer to a firm judgment on the truth or falsity of the accusations or of the nominee's flat denial of them.
One of the nominee's key supporters on the Judiciary Commitee, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said after the final session of the panel early today that he thought Ms. Hill's decision not to testify again was, for him, a signal that the fight against the nominee was ended. "It's all over," the senator said.
On the third day of the unprecedented inquiry into sexual complaints against a nominee for the nation's highest court, the dispute had shifted back to the direct conflict in testimony.
Four friends of Ms. Hill told the committee that she had told them, years ago, of unwanted sexual advances by Judge Thomas when she worked for him, and they argued that it would not be like her to make up anything or to lie.
Then four women who worked with both Judge Thomas and with Ms. Hill said she was a disgruntled employee who was ambitious, selfish or both but who had been frustrated by not remaining a part of his inner circle in the government.
The committee continued hearing witnesses into the night, calling its last panel to start at 1:30 a.m. Earlier in the evening, the committee decided not to call to the witness stand a second woman, Angela D. Wright, of Charlotte, N.C., who has accused the nominee of unwelcome sexual gestures and comments.
Ms. Wright, however, said in a telephone interview which the committee put into its record, that Mr. Thomas repeatedly made references to the anatomy of herself and other female employees when he was chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Ms. Wright, who was public relations director at the EEOC until Mr. Thomas fired her in 1985, accused him of commenting upon the size of her breasts, remarking about the "sexy" clothing he thought she was wearing, and referred to another woman at the EEOC as having "a big ass."
Most of her accusations had been made public earlier, but she added new ones in the interview with the committee's staff, including suggestions that he had made racist comments.
She recalled a meeting at the EEOC at which a staff member expressed discomfort about traveling to Mississippi with an interracial group. Mr. Thomas, she recalled, said: "I have no problem with Mississippi. You know why I like Mississippi? Because they still sell those little pickaninnies dolls down there. And I bought me a few of them, too."
At another point, she said he assured a member of the staff that his problem in obtaining money for a mortgage or some other purpose was that "you're not black enough. . . . If you grew an Afro and put on a --iki, you would get all the government money you want."
Ms. Wright's recollections about the sexually explicit comments
she attributed to Mr. Thomas were supported by Rose Jourdaine, a former speech writer for Mr. Thomas, who was fired by him on the same day that Ms. Wright was dismissed from the EEOC.
The committee decided not to put Ms. Wright on as a witness after Republicans threatened to work agressively to undermine her word, and Democrats privately expressed concern that some of the negative effect of that would tend to diminish the believability of Judge Thomas' primary accuser, Ms. Hill.
During the middle part of the day yesterday, Ms. Hill took and passed a lie detector test, with the reported result of "no indication of deception to any relevant question" about her charges of sexual harassment.
President Bush, who repeated his strong support of the nominee and again predicted Senate approval, said he thought it would be "a stupid idea" for Mr. Thomas to take a similar test. "I don't want to be in a position of advocating that every nominee takes a lie-detector test," he said during a round of golf at Ijamsville, Md., near his retreat at Camp David.
The Senate committee, in an extraordinary Sunday session, continued to pursue the issue of whether one or the other main combatants in this high political drama was lying, with senators saying repeatedly that they could not be sure either way.
As the day wore on, it seemed evident that when Mr. Thomas' nomination is put to a final vote tomorrow evening, the Senate would have to find some basis for decision other than assigning blame to one of the witnesses for failing to tell the truth under oath.
Although Republican senators went far Saturday and again yesterday in their efforts to undercut Ms. Hill's believability, and though four former aides to Judge Thomas joined in that effort yesterday evening, the panel of Ms. Hill's former friends appeared to have made some headway in bolstering her credibility.
Even strongly pro-Thomas senators did not dispute that those friends were telling the truth about what they said she had told them.
When the panel of four of Judge Thomas' former staff aides took the witness stand in the evening, they repeatedly said the Clarence Thomas they knew was "incapable" of anything as offensive as she had charged. Moreover, they seemed to be making some headway in putting her motives into doubt, implying that she was spurned by Mr. Thomas -- professionally, romantically or both -- when they worked together.
Meanwhile, outside the Senate Caucus Room, two starkly different interpretations began to emerge over what might prove decisive with the full Senate if the issue of who was lying could not be settled by the reopened committee hearing.
If the focus is on Judge Thomas directly, anti-Thomas senators and aides said, the wavering senators would vote no rather than send him to the court under such a cloud of doubt. But if the focus is on the process that sullied his name, pro-Thomas senators and aides said, the uncertain senators would vote yes to clear the Senate's good name.
Speculation about other possible keys to the confirmation vote's outcome was rife because, in the hearing room, the conflicts over who was telling the truth and who wasn't persisted into the third day of testimony.
Ms. Hill had laid out, in three hours and 39 minutes of explicit testimony, her scalding grievances about "disgusting" sexual overtures, and Judge Thomas had blasted, in seven hours and 48 minutes in the witness chair, every one of her accusations as "scurrilous lies."
After a day of angry testimony by the nominee Saturday, which seemed to turn senators' attention back to the harm he said the confirmation process had done to his life and his reputation, the committee turned yesterday to other witnesses for help in trying to sort out the basic conflicts.
The strongest pro-Hill testimony -- and the strongest anti-Thomas testimony -- came from a friend of Ms. Hill's who had called her July 1, after Judge Thomas had been nominated, to ask her what she was going to do about it.
That friend was compensation Judge Susan Hoerchner of Norwalk, Calif., a former Yale Law School classmate. Of Ms. Hill's credibility, she said flatly, "It's not just a question of my never having known her to lie; I have never known Anita even to exaggerate. I have never known her to express anger."
She recalled a telephone conversation in 1981 or 1982, after Ms. Hill had gone to work for Judge Thomas, the exact date of which she could not remember. In a distraught voice, Judge Hoerchner said, Ms. Hill "told me that she was being subjected to sexual harassment from her boss, to whom she referred by name. That boss was Clarence Thomas."
In particularly damning testimony, Judge Hoerchner said she could remember "almost verbatim" Ms. Hill's telling her then: "Mr. Thomas had said to her, 'You know, if you had witnesses, you'd have a perfect case against me.' "
Three other friends of Ms. Hill's related things they said she had told them about sexual harassment.
Ellen M. Wells of Silver Spring, Md., a friend for 10 years, said that in fall 1982, Ms. Hill "shared with me in confidence the facts of the behavior toward her in the office that she considered to be inappropriate."
Wall Street lawyer John Carr, who once pursued a romantic relationship with Ms. Hill, said she told him in 1982 that "her boss" at the EEOC, whom she did not identify, was making sexual advances toward her. "It was immediately clear to me she was referring to Mr. Thomas," Mr. Carr testified.
Joel Paul, an American University law professor who talked with Ms. Hill in the summer of 1987 when she visited his law school in Washington, said he asked her why she had left the EEOC and that she replied she had been "sexually harassed by her supervisor at EEOC," whom she did not identify.
After a long recess, during which the committee wrangled in private over how to handle a long list of remaining witnesses, four women who had worked with Judge Thomas and Ms. Hill sat down to praise his character and to criticize Ms. Hill in sometimes caustic ways.
J. C. Alvarez, a Chicago businesswoman who was on Judge Thomas' staff at the EEOC, denounced the judge's accuser as "a hard, tough woman. She was opinionated, arrogant and a relentless debater. . . . She always acted as if she was superior to everyone else, holier than thou."
Ms. Hill "had a view of herself and her abilities that did not seem to be based in reality," her former colleague said.
Another former EEOC colleague, Phyllis Berry Myers, said Ms. Hill had chafed under a lesser professional role on the Thomas staff at the EEOC; in her earlier job with him at the Education Department, she had been his only legal aide.
"She seemed to be having a difficult time, on his EEOC staff, of being considered just one of many -- especially on a staff where others were as equally or more talented that she," Ms. Myers said, suggesting that Ms. Hill might have made accusations against the nominee "because Clarence Thomas did not respond to her heightened interest" in him.
Diane Holt, Mr. Thomas' personal secretary for six years, said, "At no time did Hill intimate, not even in the most subtle of ways, that Judge Thomas was asking her out or subjecting her to the crude, abusive conversations that are now being described. Nor did I ever discern any discomfort when Hill was in Judge Thomas' presence."
Another member of Judge Thomas' inner staff at the EEOC, Nancy Elizabeth Fitch, was noticeably less critical of Ms. Hill than the other panelists, praising Judge Thomas' public service and telling the senators, "Judge Clarence Thomas would never, ever make a parallel career in harassment, ask that it not be revealed and expect to have and keep his real career."