CNN Timeline Shows That in 1991 an FBI Investigation of Anita Hill’s Allegations of Clarence Thomas Took 3 Days

Not much of a delay.

Attorneys for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a Stanford University professor who alleges Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, are insisting that the FBI should investigate her allegation despite pushback from Republicans critics say are eager to confirm Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court. Republicans have claimed that to initiate an investigation would significantly delay a vote which has already been postponed.

But a CNN timeline shows that in 1991 an FBI investigation of Anita Hill’s allegations that Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her when he was her supervisor at the United States Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only took three days.

Here’s the breakdown:

In July 1991, then-President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, then a federal appeals court judge, to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall.

On September 3, 1991, Hill was approached by the Senate Judiciary Committee and asked to provide background information on him because the two of them had worked together. A written statement from Hill, then a tenured law professor at the University of Oklahoma Law Center, sent to news organizations noted that Hill decided to submit an affidavit after “numerous discussions” with the Judiciary Committee’s staff.

Thomas’s initial hearing before the Judiciary Committee began on September 10, 1991. Two days later, according to the recollection of Joe Biden, who was then the head of the committee, Hill first told the committee that Thomas had harassed her. Hill had requested anonymity and that Thomas not be told of the accusations.

Eight days later, on September 20, 1991, “an FBI investigation was suggested” to Hill.

“I spoke with the Judiciary Committee about it early in September, and through a number of discussions, it was not until the 20th of September that an F.B.I. investigation was suggested to me,” Hill said during a news conference the following month, adding, “There was a further breakdown even after that, what information would be shared. So there are a number of different points at which the communication broke down, understandings were not carried through.”

During the conference, Hill criticized the way the Judiciary Committee handled the allegations against Thomas saying she had tried for nearly two weeks in September to put a confidential account of her allegations before the committee’s 14 male members. At the time, the New York Times observed that Hill’s account “differed markedly from the accounts offered” by the White House and Biden, “who said Ms. Hill’s demand that her statements be kept confidential had impeded the committee.”

Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford
Anita Hill testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 14, 1991. (Photo by Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

On September 23, 1991, according to a statement from Biden reported in the Times, Hill agreed to allow the FBI to investigate the allegations. Judy Smith, who was then the White House Press Secretary, said in a statement published October 6 in Newsday that Hill’s allegations were brought to the attention of the Judiciary Committee on September 23, which differs from Hill’s own account. The committee, Smith continued, then informed the White House, which then “promptly directed the FBI to conduct a full, thorough and expeditious investigation.”

The FBI completed its investigation on September 26, 1991––three days later. According to Smith’s statement, the White House reviewed the FBI’s findings “and determined that the allegation was unfounded.”

The following day, the committee deadlocked 7-7 on whether to recommend the Senate confirm Thomas. Then the committee voted 13-1 to send Thomas’s nomination to the Senate floor without a recommendation.

The public first heard of Anita Hill’s allegations on October 6, 1991, when NPR’s  Nina Totenberg obtained a copy of the FBI report and reported on them.

On October 11, 1991, Hill testified that Thomas harassed her while she was in his employ. Thomas denied that he had ever asked Hill out on dates or asked Hill to describe her sexual interests. There were four female witnesses waiting in the wings to support Hill’s credibility, but they were not called.

The Los Angeles Times described the decision not to call the women “a private agreement that kept the woman off national television” and that the compromise “meant that Angela Wright, who had been fired by Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, did not provide the testimony” that Hill’s supporters had “deemed crucial to buttressing her credibility.”

Hill’s testimony was in vain. Four days later, on October 15, 1991, the Senate confirmed Thomas in a 52-48 vote. This was the narrowest margin since the 19th century. He was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court the following week.

Hill herself has found herself center stage once more now that the allegations against Kavanaugh threaten to usher in a repeat of recent history.

“The American public really is expecting something more,” she said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“We are really under the impression that the Senate doesn’t take this seriously and doesn’t see this as part of their core responsibility,” she added.

“All of this is really something that I don’t think can be avoided if you really want to get to the truth, if that’s the purpose of this hearing,” Hill said, further noting that history could repeat itself with Kavanaugh and Blasey, “whether or not it is going to be anything more than just a sham proceeding so that the senators can say, ‘We gave her a chance to talk,’ and then move on to doing exactly what they were intending to do before she came forward.”

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