In late 1998, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about a sexual affair, many on the Right insisted that the issue wasn't the sex but the perjury. They are now confronted with a parallel case in which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas quite clearly perjured himself to get his seat on the bench.
On Friday, former federal prosecutor Lillian McEwen, one of Thomas's girlfriends in the 1980s, broke a long silence and confirmed that Thomas did engage in sexual harassment of women at work and did discuss pornography in the way that Anita Hill and other women described to the Senate during Thomas's confirmation hearings in 1991.
During those hearings, Thomas angrily denied the allegations, calling them "a high-tech lynching." Simultaneously, his right-wing allies mounted an aggressive campaign to destroy the credibility of Hill and other accusers.
The tactics worked. Thomas narrowly won Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he has remained a reliable vote for every right-wing position that the justices consider.
However, it is now obvious that Thomas committed perjury as a necessary element of gaining his seat as one of nine justices on the Supreme Court and only its second African-American. Though perjury before Congress is a felony, the Right appears to have suddenly lost its enthusiasm for demanding impeachment as the proper remedy for high officials caught lying under oath.
The new evidence of Thomas's perjury emerged this past week following a bizarre voice-mail message that Thomas's wife, Virginia, left for Anita Hill asking her to retract her testimony and to apologize to Justice Thomas. Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, rejected the request and reiterated that she was telling the truth 19 years ago.
But Mrs. Thomas's voice mail had an unexpected consequence. It spurred McEwen, now 63, to speak up in an interview with the Washington Post, which appeared in Friday's editions.
Thomas "was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners," McEwen told the Post. "It was a hobby of his."
That was a key point that Hill had raised in her televised testimony in 1991, that Thomas treated women especially black women as if they were prey for his sexual stalking.
Hill said Thomas had repeatedly and inappropriately pressed her for dates, including making lewd comments about pornography and once suggesting that he had detected a pubic hair on a Coke can.
"He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes," Hill testified. "On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess."
Thomas denied everything and cast aspersions on Hill's credibility.
"If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, or the other individuals who heard bits and pieces of it or various levels of it," Thomas told the Senate Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony.
But McEwen told the Post that during their relationship over several years in the 1980s while they worked together at two federal agencies Thomas made sexual remarks in the work place, including comments about hard-core pornographic movies that he had watched.
"He was obsessed with porn," McEwen said. "He would talk about what he had seen in magazines and films, if there was something worth noting."