A 41-year-old lawyer has accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of groping her in 1999 when she was a young foundation fellow in Washington, D.C., National Law Journal reported Thursday.
The lawyer, Moira Smith, said that Thomas repeatedly touched her rear multiple times as he pleaded for her to sit next to him at a dinner party hosted by the head of her scholarship program. The alleged incident occurred, Smith said, when just the two of them were alone near the table she was setting for the party.
Four people who knew Smith at the time confirmed to National Law Journal that they recalled her recounting the incident to them soon after it happened.
Thomas denied the claim.
“This claim is preposterous and it never happened,” Thomas said in a statement to National Law Journal.
Smith first stepped forward in a Facebook post, motivated she said by the response to the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape. She initially shared the Facebook post with just friends but then made it public, and a tipster flagged it to National Law Journal, according to the report. Her Facebook page has since been taken down, but Smith went on the record to describe the incident to National Law Journal. Additionally, National Law Journal talked to a number of Smith’s friends and colleagues in Washington, D.C., at the time, as well as attendees at the dinner party.
Three people who knew her at the time — two, her housemates; another, a colleague who would go on to marry and divorce Smith — went on the record saying that they remembered Smith telling them about the alleged incident in the days after it happened. Another unnamed housemate also told National Law Journal she recalled Smith’s recounting the alleged interaction the night or early morning after the dinner party.
Louis Blair, the executive secretary of the foundation, confirmed he hosted Thomas at the June 1999 dinner party, but said he was skeptical that Smith would have been alone with Thomas. Blair said Smith did not tell him about any allegedly inappropriate encounter with Thomas, and Smith also told National Law Journal she did not come to him with the allegation at the time.
Another dinner attendee told the National Law Journal he did not remember her or any of the young scholars allegedly present at the party being there.
Smith was in Washington, D.C., on a scholarship through a program run by the Truman Foundation, according to the report. The foundation’s executive secretary, Blair, hosted dinner parties where the young scholars could network with some of Washington’s most powerful figures, National Law Journal said. Some of the scholars would come over early and help the set-up, the report said, but at the dinner, the scholars would be be seated at a garden table while the main guests were seated close to the kitchen.
According to Smith’s account to National Law Journal, the alleged incident with Thomas happened as she was setting the table near the kitchen and he was seated in the center seat of its rectangular side:
Alone with Thomas, “I was setting the place to his right when he reached out, sort of cupped his hand around my butt and pulled me pretty close to him,” Smith said in an interview. “He said, ‘Where are you sitting?’ and gave me a squeeze. I said, ‘I’m sitting down at the garden table.’ He said, ‘I think you should sit next to me,’ giving me squeezes. I said, ‘Well, Mr. Blair is pretty particular about his seating chart.’ I tried to use the seating chart as a pretext for refusing. He one more time squeezed my butt and he said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said yes, and that was the end of it.”
Smith said she felt “shell-shocked” after the alleged interaction, but also “conflicted,” given her duties to help the host, and she even posed for a picture with Thomas later in the evening. But, she said that she told some of her colleagues about the alleged interaction. Laura Fink, Smith’s housemate at the time, told National Law Journal that she sat with Smith and their other roommates at their kitchen table soon after she returned from the party:
“I remember her telling us almost immediately,” Fink said. “We sat there stunned. We were children of the ’90s, and came of age the time of Anita Hill. We were appalled. What I remember her saying is he groped her, grabbed her rear. She had planned that dinner for the Trumans so this was a big deal; she put a lot of work on it. She had to be a professional, so she was worried about saving face and getting through the evening.”
Another housemate, Carrie Farmer, told National Law Journal her memory of the details is “fuzzy” but she recalled learning from Smith of the alleged incident.
“I remember us sitting down and talking about it. We were all shocked,” Farmer said. “We didn’t have any resources or know what to do. We felt bad for Moira and disappointed that someone in a powerful position would do that.”
The third unnamed housemate recalled hearing Smith’s account of “inappropriate behavior, some interaction with Clarence Thomas.”
Paul Bodnar, a Truman fellow who was later married to and then divorced from Smith, told the National Law Journal that she told him about the allegation, adding “it was disturbing to her.”
Blair, the party’s host and the foundation executive, said he was shocked to hear about Smith’s accusation and that he recalled party the being “spectacularly successful.” Another attendee, David Adkins, the evening’s guest of honor, said he did not recall Smith or any other young scholars being present, recalling to National Law Journal the dinner being just him, his family, Blair and Thomas.
Smith said that the 2005 Trump tape published earlier this month stirred her to come forward with her Thomas applications, particularly after she saw on Facebook memes making light of the tape that she feared “normalized” the behavior Trump described on the tape, namely powerful people feeling like their fame enables them to grope women.
“Sure enough, Justice Thomas did it with I think an implicit pact of silence that I would be so flattered and star-struck and surprised that I wouldn’t say anything. I played the chump. I didn’t say anything,” Smith said.