The Anita Hill playbook

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The Anita Hill playbook

The Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing next Monday with Dr. Christine Ford, the woman who says that she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, and did before speaking with her. Ford, through a lawyer, responded that she wanted to cooperate with the committee but requested that the FBI conduct an investigation of her allegation first, which is the process the committee used for Anita Hill in 1991.

In a letter to Ford's lawyer sent Wednesday afternoon, Grassley refused and said he planned on proceeding with the hearing on Monday.

What's the rush? First, Republicans are desperate to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm election. To save time, they dispensed with the normal process for gathering records, which is run by the nonpartisan National Archives, and delegated the task to an old friend of Kavanaugh, Bill Burck.

But there is another reason that Republicans are insisting Ford testify in just four days: They are seeking to maximize Kavanaugh's advantage over Ford in a public hearing.

Kavanaugh has the full resources of the White House, the Republican Party and a phalanx of outside groups to prepare him for the hearing and reinforce his message. The White House counsel, communications director, and press secretary have reportedly been grilling Kavanaugh for hours to prepare him.

White House officials engaged in a two-hour practice session, known as a murder board, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Kavanaugh, where he answered questions on his past, his partying, his dating and the accuser’s account. Participants included McGahn, deputy chief of staff Bill Shine, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Raj Shah, who is leading communications.

Ford, up until a few days ago, was not a public figure. She has no entourage of political professionals to prepare her for a public cross-examination by 11 Republican men. In recent days, she has been subjected to death threats, forced out of her home and into hiding.

Republicans want to pressure her to testify as soon as possible -- before she can reasonably be expected to prepare and before more facts emerge that could bolster her account.

They know this works because that's exactly what they did with Anita Hill. And that's not the only tactic Republicans are dusting off from 1991.

The time pressure

In 1991, Republicans and Democrats agreed that hearings were necessary to consider Anita Hill’s allegations. Some Democrats advocated for a few weeks to investigate and prepare for the hearing.

But the Republicans pushed for an immediate hearing -- and their position prevailed. There was a break of just two days between the decision to hold a hearing and the hearing itself. Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson explain how it went down in their 1994 book, Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas:

...Republicans wanted to get the new hearings over with immediately. "The idea," [Republican Senator John] Danforth later conceded, "was to have them begin as quickly as possible and to last as briefly as possible."

Appealing to [Democratic Senator Joe] Biden's constant desire to seem evenhanded, Danforth and [Republican Senator Bob] Dole argued that fairness dictated speed. Biden initially wanted an interval of two weeks, but now he agreed to constraints that all but sealed Hill's fate. The new hearings would begin that Friday, October 11…

There would thus be only two days to investigate Hill's charge, find and interview other witnesses, and prepare for the new hearings, which would run through the weekend if necessary. If time ran out before important allegations were explored or witnesses heard, nothing could be done. "The schedule," commented another Democratic senator, "was insanity."

The decision, Mayer and Abramson write, sealed the power dynamics:

Three days before the hearings were to open, Thomas had the full weight of the White House and Senate Republicans behind him. But Hill was about to travel to Washington as an outsider with no connections, an ordinary citizen with strengths and weaknesses, pressured against her own instincts into challenging the most powerful institutions in American society largely by herself.

Today, Republicans are seeking to put Ford in the same position. They demanded Ford commit to a hearing just two days after she first made her story public.

Unlike Ford, Anita Hill at least had the benefit of an FBI investigation into her allegations.

In his letter to Ford, Grassley not only rejected her call for a delay but moved the timeline up further. He said that, if Ford wished to appear, she would need to submit a prepared statement and biography by Friday at 10 AM.

The insane woman

Before the hearings began in 1991, allies of Thomas sought to portray Hill as mentally unstable. Mayer and Abramson tell the tale:

Armstrong Williams, an equally loyal member of Thomas's circle, pitched in too, pronouncing Hill virtually mentally unstable with respect to Thomas. As he put it in an interview with the Wall Street Journal for a story that ran the day the hearings opened, "There is a thin line between her sanity and insanity." Later, in another interview, he said, referring to Hill, "Sister has emotional problems."

On Tuesday, Joe DiGenova, a lawyer with close ties to the White House who reguarly consults with the president, declared Ford a "loon."

She really doesn't want to testify. Because when she does, she's going to look like the loon that she is. She may very well believe everything she's saying, and that is one of the signs of lunacy, believing something that isn't real.

Grassley offered a slightly toned down version of DiGenova's attack, saying he didn't "doubt that [Ford] believes what she says." Left unsaid is that Grassley believes she might be delusional.

The polygraph

Grassley's suggestion that Ford is imagining has another benefit: It explains how she passed a polygraph test.

This was the same tack taken against Hill, who also passed a polygraph exam.

Hill might not be a standard liar, as they had earlier implied, but, the Republicans now suggested in the open hearing room, she might be so delusional she believed her own lies. If so, she could pass a polygraph test and still be wrong about Thomas.

The political pawn

Republicans have sought to portray Ford as doing the political bidding of Democrats. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, claimed Ford was requesting an FBI investigation only to delay a vote on Kavanaugh until after the midterm elections.

Lindsey Graham@LindseyGrahamSC

Requiring an FBI investigation of a 36 year old allegation (without specific references to time or location) before Professor Ford will appear before the Judiciary Committee is not about finding the truth, but delaying the process till after the midterm elections.

September 19, 2018
A similar effort was made against Hill. During the hearing, Senator Hank Brown (R-CO), sought to portray Hill as a "radical, pro-choice feminist" who was attacking Thomas because "he was now in a position to threaten the Roe ruling."

The objective then, as it is now, is to establish a motive for the woman to lie.

What Anita Hill says now

In an interview on Wednesday evening with PBS Newshour, Hill urged that the hearing be delayed to make time for a professional investigation of Ford's allegations.

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.

"[W]e 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," Hill concluded.

Maybe, 27 years later, it's time to start listening to Anita Hill?

The latest from Ford

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Ford's attorney, Lisa Banks, renewed her request for a delay and a full investigation but suggested that Ford might appear if all relevant witnesses were included:

[T]he Committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation; there are multiple witnesses whose names have appeared publicly and should be included in any proceeding.

(For more on other potential witnesses see yesterday's Popular Information.)

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