Related The Supreme Court’s War on the Future

UPDATE: On April 13, ProPublica published a follow-up story in its investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow that disclosed new information regarding a real-estate deal between the two men—as well as members of Thomas’ family.

The new revelations are sure to feature prominently in Thomas’ upcoming appearance before Congress, as the sale of two homes and a vacant lot are arguably more serious breaches than the private jet junkets at the center of the first story published last week. The real estate transaction, write the ProPublica authors, “marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice.”

The piece continues:  

In 2014, one of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased a string of properties on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t a marquee acquisition for the real estate magnate, just an old single-story home and two vacant lots down the road. What made it noteworthy were the people on the other side of the deal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relatives…. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse. 

Read the full story here

What’s the big deal about a few decades of free luxury trips on private jets and superyachts, between friends?

That’s the question at the heart of ProPublica’s bombshell April 6 expose on the financial relationship between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow, a billionaire real estate magnate and Republican mega-donor. Seeking answers, a group of Democratic lawmakers has announced plans to hold hearings in the coming days. 

According to ProPublica’s report, over the course of their 25-year friendship, Crow has routinely flown Thomas around the country and abroad in his private jets, and has hosted him at his exclusive luxury resorts “virtually every year.”

ProPublica’s reporting draws from “flight records, internal documents distributed to Crow’s employees and interviews with dozens of people ranging from his superyacht’s staff to members of the secretive Bohemian Club to an Indonesian scuba diving instructor.” While gifts, including luxury ones, are legal — the Ethics in Government Act passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal that requires “justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts be disclosed” — including gifts of transportation. 

According to the ProPublica investigation:

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas responded to ProPublica’s allegations with a brief statement, in which he appears to acknowledge his violations of disclosure laws, but characterizes them as “guidelines”:

“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas said in the statement. “I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”

But seven legal ethics experts consulted by ProPublica, including former ethics lawyers for Congress and the White House, said the law clearly requires that gifts of transportation, including private jet flights, be disclosed. If Thomas is arguing otherwise, the experts said, he is incorrect.

Read ProPublica’s follow-up piece on Justice Thomas’ response to the allegations here, and their original reporting can be found here.

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