How Anita Hill’s Witnesses’ Stories Did Not Add Up: Susan Hoerchner

Susan Hoerchner, Hill’s Corroborating Witness, Says Hill Was Harassed By Thomas Months Before Hill Even Worked for Thomas

One of the most unusual aspects of Hill’s case was the weakness of her corroborating witnesses. Susan Hoerchner was Hill’s star witness—the only witness to testify that Hill told her at the time specifically that she was being sexually harassed by Thomas. The problem is that Hoerchner’s testimony on that point was completely contradicted by her own earlier statements.

Hoerchner first spoke with the Judiciary Committee staff on September 18th. According to contemporaneous notes, Hoerchner told Committee staff that she had one conversation with Hill about Thomas’ conduct “in the spring of 1981.” (See Biden summary of staff contacts here)

The trouble with this timeline, of course, is that Hill did not even start working for Clarence Thomas until late August 1981, and by her own account, Thomas did not begin the alleged harassment until several months after she began working for him.

During a subsequent in-person interview with Committee staff, Hoerchner stuck to her timeline. She explained that she and Hill had been in regular phone contact when they both lived in D.C., but lost touch after Hoerchner moved away. She moved to California in September 1981 to care for her ailing father, so she was sure the call occurred before then (pp. 4, 7-8, 22). Hoerchner repeated the timeline in answer after answer until, shockingly, Anita Hill’s attorney (Janet Napolitano) interrupted the interview and asked to confer with the witness. After a private conference, Hoerchner suddenly developed amnesia about the timing of the call and where she was living at the time.

Hoerchner also appeared uncertain during that interview whether Hill had ever mentioned Thomas by name. She said Hill reported “undergoing sexual harassment at work by her boss” (p. 4). When asked if Hill mentioned the name Clarence Thomas, Hoerchner hesitantly stated, “I think she referred to him as Clarence.” It was only after pressure from Democratic counsel that she suddenly declared herself certain that Hill had used the name Clarence.

In her testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee one day later, Hoerchner repeated her new answers, but even then got caught in lies. She denied ever having filed a sexual harassment complaint, then backtracked when Senator Simpson confronted her about a complaint she had filed. Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer tried to rehabilitate Hoerchner’s credibility in Strange Justice, reporting that Hoerchner only filed a statement on behalf of another complainant. But the news story they rely on for that assertion is sketchy support at best, and Hoerchner herself admitted to having met with an investigator, not merely filing a letter in support. In any event, Hoerchner’s obfuscation on the point was obvious. Of course, that behavior was nothing new: After twice reporting to staff of the Judiciary Committee that she was the only person Hill had ever told about the allegations, she backtracked again (also apparently on the advice of Anita Hill’s attorney) and was confronted by Senator Specter about that lie.

The transcript of Hoerchner’s in-person interview with Committee staff has never before been made public. But it only underscores what the public already knew. Hoerchner was not believable, and neither was her friend, Anita Hill.