Lillian McEwen breaks her 19-year silence about Justice Clarence Thomas
Friday, October 22, 2010
For nearly two decades, Lillian McEwen has been silent -- a part of history, yet absent from it.
When Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his explosive 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Thomas vehemently denied the allegations and his handlers cited his steady relationship with another woman in an effort to deflect Hill's allegations.
Lillian McEwen was that woman.
At the time, she was on good terms with Thomas. The former assistant U.S. attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee counsel had dated him for years, even attending a March 1985 White House state dinner as his guest. She had worked on the Hill and was wary of entering the political cauldron of the hearings. She was never asked to testify, as then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who headed the committee, limited witnesses to women who had a "professional relationship" with Thomas.
Now, she says that Thomas often said inappropriate things about women he met at work -- and that she could have added her voice to the others, but didn't.
Over the years, reporters and biographers approached her eager to know more about Thomas from women who knew him well. But McEwen remained mum. She said she saw "nothing good" coming out of talking to reporters about Thomas, whom she said she still occasionally met. She did not want to do anything to harm her career, she added. Plus, she realized, "I don't look good in this."
Today, McEwen is 65 and retired from a successful career as a prosecutor, law professor and administrative law judge for federal agencies. She has been twice married and twice divorced, and has a 32-year-old daughter. She lives in a comfortable townhouse in Southwest Washington.
And she is silent no more.
She has written a memoir, which she is now shopping to publishers. News broke that the justice's wife, Virginia Thomas, left a voice mail on Hill's office phone at Brandeis University, seeking an apology -- a request that Hill declined in a statement. After that, McEwen changed her mind and decided to talk about her relationship with Thomas.
"I have nothing to be afraid of," she said, adding that she hopes the attention stokes interest in her manuscript.
(Read latest developments: Lillian McEwen says things got bad when Clarence Thomas stopped drinking)
To McEwen, Hill's allegations that Thomas had pressed her for dates and made lurid sexual references rang familiar.