Former Vice President Joe Biden voiced regret Friday over how he handled sexual misconduct allegations brought against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill more than 25 years ago, amid similar accusations today against Brett Kavanaugh.
In an interview with NBC News aired Friday, Biden suggested he would apologize to Hill, who accused Justice Thomas in 1991 of making sexually explicit comments and unwanted advances toward her while she worked for him at the Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s.
Biden, at the time, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading the Thomas confirmation proceedings. Biden has been criticized for his handling of that process.
“The woman should be given the benefit of the doubt and not be you know, abused again, by the system. My biggest regret was I didn’t know how I could shut you off if you were a senator and you were attacking Anita Hill’s character,” Biden said. “Under the Senate rules, I can’t gavel you down and say you can’t ask that question. Although I tried.”
Biden added: “I believed her when she came forward. I encouraged her to come forward. We were in a position where we go the FBI to do an investigation and I voted against Clarence Thomas.”
Thomas at the time denied the allegations and famously described the process as a "high-tech lynching."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently facing an all-too-familiar situation as Kavanaugh faces allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford. Ford claimed that at a party 36 years ago, while they were both were in high school, Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to remove her bathing suit and put his hand over her mouth while she attempted to scream. Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, said her client considered this to be “an attempted rape.”
Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations.
“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or anyone,” Kavanaugh said in a statement this week. “Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making the accusation until she identified herself [Sunday.]”
Ford’s identity was first revealed in a Washington Post article on Sunday. Her accusations first surfaced after Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., obtained a letter detailing the alleged incident.
Kavanaugh has volunteered to testify in public before the committee. Ford has tentatively agreed to testify but is working out the terms and timing with the committee. She also has called for an FBI investigation into the allegations.
“I think they should do an FBI investigation. We did that for Anita Hill,” Biden explained Friday. “Most importantly, Anita Hill was vilified when she came forward by a lot of my colleagues, character assassination. I wish I could’ve done more to prevent those questions, the way they asked them.”
Biden added: “She deserves to be treated with dignity. It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward.”
Sources told Fox News earlier this week that the FBI will not launch a criminal investigation into Kavanaugh, as there has not been a federal crime alleged. The only way the FBI could further probe the Kavanaugh allegations would be as part of the background investigation. That request would need to come from the White House.
At this point, sources told Fox News that there was “no impetus” on the part of the White House to ask the FBI to develop more information about Kavanaugh as part of its background probe.
President Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the confirmation process for Kavanaugh should not be held up. "I don't think you can delay it any longer," he said Thursday.
But Biden said he did not think there should be a vote to confirm Kavanaugh if Ford decided not to testify.
When asked what he would say to Hill today, Biden said he would apologize.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have stopped the kind of attacks that came to you [Hill],” Biden said. “But I never attacked her, I supported her. I believed her from the beginning.”
But Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, blasted the committee and reflected on her own experiences in a column for The New York Times. Hill wrote that the committee had failed to “demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court.”
“That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement,” she wrote. “With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, ‘not getting it’ isn’t an option for our elected representatives.”
She added: “In 2018, our senators must get it right.”