Nearly three decades after Anita Hill came forward, Sen. Orrin Hatch again sides with the accused

(John Duricka | AP file photo) Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, questions Professor Anita Hill on Friday, Oct. 11, 1991 in Washington during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., looks on.

Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch said the woman’s story accusing the Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct was “too contrived.” He believed she was lying after being coaxed by liberal special interests to derail the confirmation and was yearning for the spotlight.

“For all the expressions of wanting not to have publicity and to avoid publicity, I personally felt that she looked as though she enjoyed having the publicity today,” Hatch said on the Senate floor. “But, be that as it may, her story just does not add up.”

And Hatch strongly defended the nominee.

“Frankly, his reputation is an absolutely impeccable one and unimpeachable, in my opinion, having sat through all five [of his] confirmation proceedings and having presided over three of them,” the Utah Republican said, adding later, “Frankly, I am getting the opinion that some people stop at nothing to get their ideological aims fulfilled, even if it means smearing a very fine man and his family.”

That was Hatch in 1991, responding to Anita Hill’s accusations that then-nominee and future Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her in two previous government jobs. Hatch had Thomas' back even as his nomination was pushed through in the closest vote on a Supreme Court pick in modern history (52-48) after a contentious series of hearings.

While the people and circumstances differ, there are parallels with Hatch’s response 27 years ago and his comments last week as a woman came forward to charge that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her at a high school party when they were both teenagers.

Both Thomas and Kavanaugh denied any wrongdoing.

And Hatch, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who participated in the confirmation of all eight justices now on the court, believed the Supreme Court nominees over their accusers.

On Monday, while adding that he wants to hear more from Christine Blasey Ford about her alleged attack by Kavanaugh, said he spoke with the nominee and believes his side.

Ford must be “mistaken,” and even if the allegation were true Kavanaugh is a “good man” and senators should judge who he is now, Hatch said.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right, meets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ford, a research psychologist in California, said Kavanaugh pinned her down during a high school party and groped her — going so far as clasping his hand over her mouth when she attempted to scream. But, she says, she escaped before he could remove her clothes.

"If that was true,” Hatch told reporters, “I think it would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today. That’s the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is."

Hatch initially said that Kavanaugh denied being at the party — even though Ford has not said the date or location of the party. When pressed, the Utah Republican changed his statement saying Kavanaugh denied being at a party as described by Ford.

Though many high-profile men have been toppled as the #MeToo movement has picked up steam, Kavanaugh’s place on the high court may not be in jeopardy. Republicans control the Senate, even if by a slim margin, and so far Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, hasn’t wavered from his goal to see Kavanaugh on the bench before the court returns to session Oct. 1.

Hatch, as the Senate’s most senior Republican, is helping to ensure Kavanaugh is confirmed — as he did with Thomas.

Similar roles

Hatch was a key figure during Thomas' confirmation hearings, being the designated Republican to question Thomas about Hill’s accusations that he talked about pornographic films and in other ways harassed her.

“I think you deserve the opportunity to tell your side of this and you have done it here so far,” Hatch told the then-circuit court judge. “And I have to tell you this has come down to this, one woman’s allegations that are 10 years old against your lifetime of service over that same 10-year period. I have known you almost 11 years. And the person that the good professor described is not the person I have known.”

(John Duricka | AP Photo) Federal Judge Clarence Thomas, center, meets with Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and John Danforth, R-Missouri on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 12, 1991. The post is subject to Senate confirmation.

He decried “how one person’s uncorroborated allegations, could destroy a career and one of the most wonderful opportunities for a young man from Pin Point, Georgia.”

The proof of such allegations rests with the accuser, the senator noted, and Hill didn’t have it.

“I hope that nobody here, either on this panel or in this room, is saying that, ‘Judge, you have to prove your innocence,’ because I think we have to remember and we have to insist that Anita Hill has the burden of proof or any other challenger, and not you, judge,” Hatch said. “The fact of the matter is, the accuser, under our system of jurisprudence and under any system of fairness, would have to prove their case.”

The Clarence Thomas hearings in which Anita Hill appeared were the must-watch reality TV of their day: A roomful of powerful white men grilling a young black woman about her uncomfortable interactions with a black judicial nominee, using language that was jarring and raw for public airwaves of the time. Hatch said then that he was embarrassed to ask Thomas these questions but quizzed him about the allegations that he spoke to Hill about a pubic hair on a Coke can as well as a nickname he gave his genitalia.

Anita Hill, University of Oklahoma Law Professor, who testified, that she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas. 1991 photo. (AP Photo)

At the time, Hatch praised an FBI investigation for clearing up the facts of the situation.

“When they heard about this the first time, they immediately ordered the FBI investigation, which was the very right thing to do,” Hatch said on the Senate floor, referring to the Judiciary Committee. “It was the appropriate thing to do. They did what every other chairman and ranking member have done in the past. And the investigation was done, and it was a good investigation.”

That’s not what Hatch has said in recent days.

A quarter-century later

Ford and Democrats have called for the FBI to probe the allegations against Kavanaugh, but Republicans have resisted such a move.

Linking to a letter from Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Hatch’s office tweeted “most of those suggesting the FBI should investigate Dr. Ford’s accusations because they investigated Anita Hill’s likely understand the differences between the two situations.”

Grassley and Republicans argue that the FBI doesn’t assess the credibility of information it receives about a nominee and doesn’t answer to the Judiciary Committee, so there’s no reason for the agency to be involved.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, opens a hearing on the Trump administration's policies on immigration enforcement and family reunification efforts, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“The Constitution assigns the Senate, and only the Senate, with the task of advising the president on his nominee and consenting to the nomination if the circumstances merit,” Grassley said in a letter. “We have no power to commandeer an executive branch agency into conducting our due diligence. The job of assessing and investigating a nominee’s qualifications in order to decide whether to consent to the nomination is ours, and ours alone.”

Whether Ford testifies before the Judiciary Committee is still in flux.

Grassley had initially reopened the hearing process and planned a Monday session to let Kavanaugh and Ford testify, though Ford’s lawyers have said that was premature without an FBI investigation. The two sides are now negotiating a later date, with Ford asking for a hearing on Thursday and Grassley saying it will be Wednesday.

Democrats have responded that Grassley and Republicans are trying to railroad Kavanaugh’s confirmation without due diligence.

“These are serious allegations that should be treated with gravity and respect,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who received a letter from Ford and passed it on to the FBI. “Dr. Ford is receiving death threats. She’s had her identity stolen and her email account hacked. She fled her home with her family. But Republicans want to rush her into a hearing. It’s mean-spirited and candidly shows no sympathy or empathy whatsoever. It’s just an extra day, why not wait 24 hours?”

Hatch, whose office has issued a torrent of tweets to defend Kavanaugh and the Republican response, accused Democrats of purposefully withholding Ford’s allegations until after Kavanaugh’s hearings and are just trying to delay the confirmation with unsubstantiated claims.

“Really quite alarming to hear Senate Democrats call Monday's hearing as a 'sham' or 'kangaroo hearing,'” Hatch's office tweeted Thursday, noting that Grassley is trying to work with Ford to get her testimony.

McConnell signaled Friday that Kavanaugh’s confirmation was a done deal.

“You’ve watched the fight. You’ve watched the tactics,” McConnell told a gathering of conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. “Here’s what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.… Keep the faith. Don’t get rattled by all of this. We’re going to plow right through it and do our job.”

As of Friday evening, Hatch's official Twitter page still had a “pinned tweet,” a handpicked post to highlight, at the top of his feed. It was from July 11 before the controversy erupted.

“Dearest Elaine,” the office tweeted in a parody of a Civil War letter from a wartime soldier. “Day 3 was mystifying. The good judge was accused of grave sins such as not paying for sport tickets hastily enough, and holding a name that sounds like a ‘restaurant’ employee or male fraternity member. Tomorrow will be worse. Yours, O.”