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Janet Napolitano: Biden has done enough to apologize for Anita Hill hearings

Janet Napolitano on Biden and Anita Hill

Joe Biden has done enough to apologize for the treatment of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over 25 years ago, says one of Hill's attorneys at that time.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was a Phoenix lawyer who was part of Hill's legal team in 1991, when the University of Oklahoma law professor accused Thomas of having sexually harassed her while she worked under his supervision at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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In an interview this week, Napolitano said of Biden, "I think he's expressing regret for the way the hearing was conducted, and I think that in retrospect we all know that hearing should have been handled differently." But Napolitano told CBS News' chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on "The Takeout" podcast this week that she still does not understand why Biden did not call the other available witnesses supporting Hill to testify. However, she also thinks calling these witnesses would not have changed the outcome of the hearings.

Hill was treated with skepticism and derision by several members of the all-male Senate committee. Biden said on "The View" in April that he was "sorry she was treated the way she was treated."

"I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done," Biden said, adding that "I don't think that I treated her badly."

"Has he done enough to express regret and apologize? I think he has," Napolitano said. "I don't know what more we can expect from the vice president in this area."

Napolitano compared Hill's treatment by senators to that of Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. Ford had accused Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her decades earlier. Napolitano suggested that Thomas and Kavanaugh used similar strategies in responding to the allegations against them -- "to blow up the place" with their testimony. 

Both Thomas and Kavanaugh expressed anger and frustration during their confirmation hearings. Kavanaugh called his confirmation process a "national disgrace," and told senators, "My name and my family have been permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations."

"When you saw Kavanaugh's unbelievable -- to me -- performance for a nominee to the Supreme Court, and then Senator Lindsey Graham pile on," Napolitano said, "it really was so reminiscent of when Thomas came in and accused the Senate of conducting a 'high-tech lynching' of an uppity black man, which really put the senators back on their heels."

"I do think that the Senate as an institution hasn't progressed much since the Hill-Thomas hearing," Napolitano said.

She thinks that if the hearings had been structured differently, there would have been a different outcome. Thomas had spoken first in the additional hearings on the accusations against him. He defended his integrity and condemned the senators for holding a "disgusting" proceeding, in which "this sleaze, this dirt" was sought by committee staff, leaked it to the media ,"and this body validated it and displayed it at prime time over our entire nation."

Napolitano thinks that because he appeared first -- before Hill -- he had an advantage. Thomas "established the framework, set the senators back on their heels," Napolitano said, adding that Biden gave Hill the final word. 

"In the context of that hearing, it was not fair," she said, "and it really shut down the possibility of any senator or anyone watching to be persuaded that Professor Hill testified truthfully."

For more of Major's wide-ranging conversation with Janet Napolitano, download "The Takeout" podcast on iTunesGooglePlaySpotify and Stitcher or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).

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