The Senate ended a frantic, dramatic day of uncertainty about the fate of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by delaying until next Tuesday a vote on his confirmation and authorizing new hearings on charges of sexual harassment leveled by a former aide.

Thomas, his confirmation in clear danger, yesterday asked the Senate for a chance to "clear my name," and released a sworn statement categorically denying he ever displayed improper behavior toward Anita Hill, now a University of Oklahoma law professor, when she worked for him at the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1980s.

John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas's chief supporter in the Senate, quoted Thomas as saying, "I have to restore what they have taken from me. I have to appear before the appropriate forum and clear my name."

The White House issued a statement after the delay repeating President Bush's support for Thomas. "We believe that Judge Thomas is an excellent candidate for the Supreme Court who should be confirmed. . . . Judge Thomas is an outstanding individual who has demonstrated his honesty and integrity throughout his life."

While Thomas supporters wanted a two- or three-day delay on the vote, they eventually agreed to a compromise with Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) to postpone the vote for a week, until 6 p.m. next Tuesday. Mitchell said there were "serious and highly controversial and unresolved" charges and denials that must be resolved before the Senate can vote.

"I believe the delay now approved is important to the integrity of the Senate," as well as that of the Supreme Court, the confirmation process and the reputations of Thomas and Hill, he added.

More than six out of 10 persons questioned last night in a Washington Post-ABC News poll said that Thomas should not be confirmed if the harassment charges against him are proved.

In September, an ABC News poll found that 63 percent of those questioned said they backed the Thomas nomination. Last night, 50 percent said the Senate should confirm Thomas, 25 percent were opposed and the remainder undecided.

Danforth was flushed with rage as he stood on the Senate floor after the vote originally scheduled for 6 p.m. yesterday was postponed. "Clarence Thomas is being crucified," he said, ". . . This isn't advise and consent. This is slash and burn."

Danforth glowered at Democratic Senate aides he suspects of having a role in making the charges public. "That's the way we do things around here; if we want to beat someone, we destroy them."

Danforth also expressed concern that Thomas would be badly damaged by the new probe. "This is going to be a fishing expedition all over the country . . . advertising virtually for people to come forth with whatever they have to dump on Clarence Thomas," he said. "He's never going to be able to recover the reputation he had going into this . . . because charges like this stick."

Danforth said last night on ABC-TV's "Nightline" that Thomas had said he was not sure he "wanted to go through another week," but Republicans had told him his nomination would be defeated if the vote were held last night.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said the committee would subpoena witnesses if necessary but that the scope of the inquiry would be limited to allegations of sexual harassment, either by Hill or any others who might step forward.

"Anyone who wants to make charges against Thomas would have to be willing to testify in public session," Biden said. "This is not a star chamber." He said the hearings could begin as early as Friday.

In a four-page, single-spaced statement submitted to the committee on Sept. 23, Hill alleged that Thomas harassed her between 1981 and 1983, describing pornographic movies he had watched involving group sex and sex with animals and detailing sexual acts he wanted to perform with Hill, according to those familiar with the statement.

Danforth early in the day tried to challenge the credibility of Hill by releasing a five-sentence affidavit by Thomas denying charges of misconduct and logs of 10 telephone calls from Hill to Thomas after she left the EEOC.

"At all times during the period she worked with me, our relationship was strictly professional," Thomas said in the statement. "During that time and subsequently, the relationship has been wholly cordial.

"I am terribly saddened and deeply offended by these allegations."

Hill called the telephone logs "garbage" and said she had not telephoned Thomas except to return his calls.

Hill, besieged by reporters in Norman, Okla., as she sought to maintain a normal routine and teach her scheduled classes, repeated her willingness to testify about her allegations if called.

"I intend to go to Washington if it is requested," she said.

Meanwhile, a law school classmate confirmed that she told the FBI that Hill had confided in her at the time that "she was experiencing sexual harassment at work from" Thomas. "She just said that he was always after her to go out and was always presenting himself as the ideal man for her and so forth and she didn't get any more explicit than that," said the classmate, who spoke on the condition that she not be publicly identified.

Hill's allegations, and the apparent willingness of the male-dominated Senate to proceed on the vote until the charges became public, triggered a storm of protest yesterday. The Capitol switchboard was swamped with calls. Women representatives, women law professors, and one of the two women senators took the Senate to task for what was viewed as its offhanded treatment of alleged sexual misconduct.

Republicans, infuriated that a National Public Radio reporter received a copy of the FBI file on Hill's allegations, demanded an independent counsel investigation of the source of the leak. The Senate put off consideration of that until after next week's vote on Thomas.

Under Senate rules, any senator or officer of the Senate who is found to have disclosed secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate is subject to expulsion or dismissal.

Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.) offered a resolution last night instructing Majority Leader Mitchell, in consultation with the minority leader, to appoint a special counsel to conduct a one-month investigation. The special counsel would be similar to those who were appointed to supervise the Senate ethics committee investigation of the "Keating Five" and the House ethics committee investigation of former House speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.).

Brown, who talked by telephone with Hill earlier in the day, said in an interview, "It's clear a violation of Senate rules did occur."

"Miss Hill advised me she did not talk to NPR {National Public Radio} until the reporter simply read verbatim her statement," Brown said. "It's clear confidentiality was broken."

The Thomas nomination appeared assured until the news accounts last weekend. On Friday, he appeared to have the support of at least 54 senators, including 13 Democrats. But Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said late yesterday that the count then stood at 41 for Thomas, 41 against and 18 undecided. While many of the 18 were leaning toward Thomas, Dole said, he was not sure Thomas could still claim a majority on an immediate vote.

Thomas supporters moved earlier in the day to discredit Hill. Danforth released the telephone logs showing calls from Hill between 1984 and 1987, and one in 1990, with messages in a seemingly friendly tone. They included calls stating, "Just called to say hello; sorry she didn't get to see you last week," "Wanted to congratulate you on marriage," "Please call tonight," and "Needs your advice on getting research grants."

The phone calls, Danforth said, "are inconsistent with a person who believes that she has been mistreated by him . . . inconsistent with the charges that have been made."

Hill reacted angrily, disputing that some of the calls had ever been made and saying that she was either returning his calls or, in 1990, making sure he had received an invitation from others at the University of Oklahoma law school to speak at a commencement ceremony.

"If there are messages to him from me, these are attempts to return phone calls. . . ," she said. "I never called him to say hello. I found out about his marriage through a third party. I never called him to congratulate him."

Yesterday morning, Hill said she could not answer every challenge to her credibility from Thomas's supporters in the administration and the Senate. "I don't have this arsenal of people to deal with these things. They've got all these people behind the scenes. Here, it's me by myself," she said.

The day began with a serious break in Republican ranks as Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who provided a critical vote for Thomas in the Judiciary Committee, called for a delay in the confirmation vote, although he said he still planned to vote to confirm Thomas.

"The Senate is really the guardian of the Supreme Court, and, if it takes another day or two, I think that it might be well to put any doubts to rest," Specter said on NBC-TV's "Today" show. "I don't think it'll change the outcome a bit."

The Senate session began placidly enough with a low-key appeal to Republican leaders by Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, to ask Thomas to seek a delay so that both he and Hill could appear before the committee.

But then the tension that had been building since Hill's allegations were disclosed last weekend began to spill out onto the floor, pushing the Senate to the edge of collapse.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) stunned the handful of lawmakers then on the floor with a surprise motion to adjourn the Senate for a week, which he described as the only feasible way around the Senate rule requiring approval of all senators to postpone the Thomas vote.

Within minutes, the Senate doors flew open and Mitchell burst in, calling out, "Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President" in a frantic attempt to regain control of the situation. Republicans then got in the act, entering objections every time Moynihan opened his mouth.

Order finally was restored but, within minutes, Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) took the floor in bristling indignation to demand that Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) apologize for suggesting to reporters Monday that Metzenbaum had leaked Hill's allegations against Thomas to the press. "That is wrong, that is untrue," Metzenbaum said. "I'll take you at your word," Hatch responded.

As the day proceeded, Democrat after Democrat came out publicly for delaying the vote and most said that they would vote against Thomas if forced to decide last night.

After the two parties' weekly luncheons, Democrats said they were prepared to seek a delay and persuade Republicans to go along by demonstrating that they could not get enough votes for confirmation unless Thomas and Hill were called before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions about Hill's allegations. At the least, this appeared to require half of the 13 Democrats who had endorsed Thomas to say they would vote against him if forced to vote last night.

The Post-ABC News poll found that Americans were sharply divided last night over the Senate's decision to delay the Thomas vote, and more than four out of 10 expressed disapproval over the way the Senate has handled the nomination.

The survey of 524 randomly selected adults found that 50 percent said they approved of the Senate's decision to postpone final action on Thomas until hearings could be held on the harassment charges. But 39 percent disapproved of the Senate's action, while the remaining 11 percent were undecided.

The public was even more sharply divided over the way that the Senate has handled the Thomas nomination. The survey found that 46 percent of those questioned expressed approval of the Senate's conduct. But 42 percent expressed disapproval.

The Senate and its all-male Judiciary Committee had come under sharp attack yesterday for appearing to brush aside charges made by Hill that Thomas repeatedly made improper advances toward her while she worked for him in the early 1980s.

Staff writer John E. Yang, polling director Richard Morin and researcher Ralph Gaillard Jr. contributed to this report.

Q. Have you heard or read about charges by a former co-worker of

Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court nominee, that he sexually

harassed her on the job?

Yes ........ 87%

No.......... 13

Q. The Senate tonight delayed a vote on whether to confirm Thomas

in order to look further into this charge. Do you approve or

disapprove of the delay in the vote on Thomas's nomination?

Approve...... 50%

Disapprove... 39

No opinion... 11

Q. Do you think the Senate should or should not confirm Thomas's

nomination to the Supreme Court?

.................... October... September

Should confirm ..... 50%....... 63%

Should NOT confirm.. 25........ 24

Wait and see........ 13........ N/A

No opinion.......... 12........ 13

Q. If the charge against Thomas is true, would that be enough

of a reason for the Senate to reject his nomination, or not?

Yes......... 63%

No.......... 31

No opinion... 6

Q. Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way the Senate

has handled the Thomas nomination?

Approve....... 46%

Disapprove.... 42

No opinion.... 12

Figures based on telephone interviews with 524 randomly selected adults conducted Tuesday night by Chilton Research of Radnor, Pa. Margin of sampling error for a survey of this size is plus or minus 5 percentage points. But the practical difficulties of conducting a survey in a single night represent another potential source of error in this survey.