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Anita Hill on Kavanaugh: ‘Without an investigation, there cannot be an effective hearing’

President Donald Trump and key Senate Republicans said this week that an FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t necessary before a scheduled hearing next week about a sexual assault allegation made against him.

But Anita Hill, a law professor and author who famously accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings 27 years ago, told the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that “without an investigation, there cannot be an effective hearing.”

Hill provided testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1991, after she had publicly accused Thomas, then a nominee. The accusation, which he denied, upended his path to confirmation, but did not derail it: He was confirmed soon after and remains on the court to this day.

Hill said in her interview with the NewsHour that some of the current senators on the committee — including a few who questioned her more than two decades ago — “have already indicated that they have made up their mind” about Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor who went public this week with her claim that Kavanaugh assaulted her while they were in high school.

She also questioned whether committee staffers were up to the task of investigating Ford’s accusation, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley has asserted. “I doubt that they are qualified to carry out this investigation in a neutral fashion,” Hill said.

In a New York Times op-ed earlier this week, Hill suggested that the panel could commission neutral investigators to conduct a probe and present their findings.

Hill told Woodruff that “it’s ironic that we have senators who are deciding about who is going to sit on the highest court, but they can’t really put partisanship aside long enough to put together a fair hearing to get to the truth about this situation.”

Other highlights from the Newshour interview:

On why a hearing is necessary:
“I think it’s in the best interests of both Dr. Blasey Ford as well as in the interests of Judge Kavanaugh. But I certainly think it is in the interests of the American public” and the Supreme Court,” said Hill.

On what Ford should expect from the process:
“We can’t promise her an outcome in a fair hearing,” Hill told Woodruff. “But what we ought to be able to promise her is a fair hearing. And a thorough investigation.”

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The situation now with Kavanaugh's confirmation evokes memories of a different confrontation that played out some 27 years ago.

    In 1991, Anita Hill was a law professor at the University of Oklahoma who came forward publicly to accuse a former boss, then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment.

    Yesterday, The New York Times published an opinion column from Hill with her own prescriptions for what the central figures in the current confrontation could learn from 1991.

    Anita Hill is now a professor of law at Brandeis University and an author focusing on issues of gender, race and social policy.

    And she joins me now.

    Anita Hill, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Just to look at what's going on right now, the Senate Judiciary Committee leaders are saying they want Professor Blasey Ford to testify, that they don't believe in FBI investigation is necessary. Their own staff is investigating. And they're making it sound as if they're going to go ahead whether she's there or not.

    Under those circumstances, should she testify?

  • Anita Hill:

    You know, that's a decision that she has to make for herself.

    My belief is that, without an investigation, there cannot be an effective hearing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So when the Senate — senators on the Judiciary Committee say their own staff is carrying out an investigation, you're saying that's not sufficient?

  • Anita Hill:

    I'm saying it's not sufficient, not because they — I know what their staffs' qualifications are. But I doubt that they are qualified to carry out this investigation in a neutral fashion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's go back to 1991. I want to show our audience — this is an excerpt from the confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas hearings, that year.

    You were being questioned at this point by then Senator Arlen Specter.

    Let's listen.

  • Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.:

    You testified this morning, in response to Senator Biden, that the most embarrassing question involved — this is not too bad — women's large breasts. That's a word we use all the time.

    That was the most embarrassing aspect of what Judge Thomas had said to you.

  • Anita Hill:

    No, the most embarrassing aspect was his description of the act of these individuals, these women, that — the acts that those particular people would engage in. It wasn't just the breasts.

    It was the continuation of his story about what happened in those films with the people of — with this characteristic — physical characteristic.

  • Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.:

    With the physical characteristic of?

  • Anita Hill:

    The largest breasts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Professor Hill, what was your assessment of the senators' question — questioning of you, as you look back on it?

  • Anita Hill:

    Well, as I look back on it, I think that there is evidence that that — clearly, evidence that the staffers shouldn't be the ones designing this hearing at this point.

    Senator Specter had already indicated prior to my testimony that he believed Clarence Thomas, that he didn't go into that hearing with an open mind. And what followed were questions that reflected that he didn't have an open mind and wasn't interested really in pursuing the truth of my testimony, but was more interested in discrediting me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you know, I'm sure what these Republican senators on the committee right now are saying is there have already been half-a-dozen FBI investigations of Judge Kavanaugh, and they question whether they're going to learn much more.

    In other words, they are not inclined to expect that anything new is going to come out.

  • Anita Hill:

    And the senators have already indicated that they have made up their mind about this individual.

    All of this, to me, just points to the fact that they are not prepared to have this hearing. If they don't understand the difference between a general investigation by the FBI and a specific investigation into the allegations that have been raised about this sexual assault, or potential sexual assault that occurred, if they don't understand that difference, then they are really not prepared to go into this phase of the hearing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If it turns out, Professor Hill, that there is no way to verify Professor Blasey Ford's allegation, what are we left with here? If there's no evidence that surfaces, no account — account that surfaces to back her up or refute what she said?

  • Anita Hill:

    You know, one the things that I won't assume is the idea that there is no evidence, because I am not a professional that does these kind of investigations.

    When you get a professional involved, they will know the questions to ask, they will know the places to go, they will know the people to call on as witnesses to complete what is a thorough investigation.

    So there — there's a lot more than we can learn. I think, so often, we get — fall into this trap saying, oh, this is a he said/she said situation. And that rarely is the case. There is very often — and most often, I would say — ways that testimony can be corroborated, either through other individuals or other circumstances that are similar.

    And we need to let that play out and to make sure that we have turned over every stone to get to the facts of this situation. I think it's in the best interest of both Dr. Blasey Ford, as well as the interest of Judge Kavanaugh.

    But I certainly think it is in the best interest of the American public and the court.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Given what you just said, I want to ask, in this current partisan, divided environment we are living in, in this country, is it possible for something like this, for an allegation to come up when someone is being nominated to an important position, and for them to get a fair hearing?

  • Anita Hill:

    It's possible, if people are willing to put aside partisanship for higher ideals, for the betterment of the court or for what is in the best interest of the public.

    I will say this. When individuals come forward and raise claims, they do so at great risk. We know from the information that has been published and the story that has followed sense Dr. Blasey was revealed as the person who wrote the letter to — and gave it to her representative, we know that, in fact, there have been threats to her life. We know that she is now in hiding because of those threats.

    We can't promise her an outcome in a fair hearing, but what we ought to be able to promise her is a fair hearing and a thorough investigation.

    And I think it's a reflection, not only on this particular hearing, but also a particular — a reflection on the ability of individuals who are our representatives to do their job, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court.

    I think it's ironic that we have senators who are deciding about who is going to sit on the highest court, but they can't really put partisanship side long enough to put together a fair hearing to get to the truth about this situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Professor Anita Hill, we thank you very much.

  • Anita Hill:

    Thank you.

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