Exclusive: The story behind new allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas

JUDY WOODRUFF: As you just heard, there are new allegations coming out today of sexual assault aimed at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Marcia Coyle, who is the chief Washington correspondent for "The National Law Journal" and a "NewsHour" regular, she broke the story, and she joins us now.

Marcia, welcome to the program.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you cover the Supreme Court.

MARCIA COYLE: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How did this come to your attention?

MARCIA COYLE: Well, the evening of the day that all of us were reading about Donald Trump's audiotape in which he talked about how he treated women, Moira Smith, who is a lawyer and executive at a natural gas company in Alaska, put a post on her Facebook page in which she recounted three instances of inappropriate touching, even sexual assault, in her life.

And one of the incidents that she mentioned involved Justice Clarence Thomas. Back in 1999, when she was just shy of her 24th birthday, she was a Truman Foundation scholar here in Washington, D.C., and she was at a dinner party hosted by her boss at the time at the foundation, and Justice Thomas was there with some other guests.

She claimed that he groped her at that dinner. A friend of hers sent a copy of the Facebook post to me in a private Twitter message. And after discussing it with my editors, we felt we should open the line of communication with her.

I called her, with no commitment to publish anything, to see if she wanted to talk. She didn't seek us out, and we didn't go hunting for her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you say this was a dinner party. It involved the group that she was part of. Her employer was having the dinner. How did she happen to be next to, be adjacent to the justice?

MARCIA COYLE: She was called a resident scholar. She was spending a year in which she basically helped the foundation with its activities.

And part of her unofficial duties was to be at these dinner parties that the director of the foundation used to network. This was a special dinner in which the foundation was planning to give an award to a Kansas state legislator. And Justice Thomas was invited because he was going to give the award the next day at the Supreme Court.

She claims that she was there doing preparations and doing final setting of the table for the dinner. Most of the guests, she said, were in the kitchen with her boss, who was a gourmet chef. When she was setting the table next to the justice is when she claims that he reached out and grabbed her with his right arm about five to six inches below the waist and squeezed her several times while asking her where was she going to sit. He thought she should sit next to him.

She eventually broke away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, that night, she didn't say anything to anyone at the party.

MARCIA COYLE: No. No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But she did later?

MARCIA COYLE: Well, based on my conversations that we had almost daily, I — while listening to her, I also began to report out to see if there was any corroboration.

And I so found that she had had three roommates, housemates that summer, in D.C., and I found them and interviewed each of them individually. And even though they were fuzzy — I mean, it's been a long time on the actual details of what she said — they all remembered her telling them about inappropriate behavior by the justice and how they really just didn't know what to do.

I also found a fourth person who was a scholar that summer who also remembered her telling him about the incident shortly afterwards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Marcia, you have asked the justice about this. Tell us about that.

MARCIA COYLE: I approached the — my editors and I thought we had enough to approach him on Tuesday. And I walked the letter over to the court public information office, in which I told him specifically what she was claiming in her own words.

And then later that evening, I followed up with a series of questions. He finally did get back to us late Wednesday afternoon. And, at that point, he had just one sentence in response. He said, "The claim is preposterous and it never happened."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And are you aware, Marcia, of any other allegations involving Justice Thomas, other than the Anita Hill original…

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIA COYLE: No. As I said in the story, there have been no other public allegations against the justice since the Anita Hill hearings in 1991.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where does this go from here?

MARCIA COYLE: I think people should read the story.

As I often say here on the "NewsHour" when I talk about decisions, I try to give as much information as possible, so that people can make up their own minds about what the court has done. This was a thoroughly reported and carefully edited story. And I just suggest they read it and make their own decision.

And we will see. There has been some reaction. The justice has very loyal supporters. They have come — some of them have come forward with very skeptical comments about the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia Coyle with "The National Law Journal," thank you for coming to talk to us about it.

MARCIA COYLE: Thank you, Judy.

Recently in Nation