Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have asked GOP megadonor Harlan Crow to provide a list of gifts and trips he gave Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as scrutiny grows over their friendship.
In letters sent to Crow and the holding companies that own his private jet, yacht and Adirondacks property on Monday, the lawmakers asked for the full accounting by May 22.
The request follows a series of ProPublica reports that found Thomas accepted undisclosed luxury trips from Crow. ProPublica also reported Crow bought a string of properties owned by Thomas and his family and paid for the private school tuition of Thomas’s great-nephew.
“Recent investigative reporting has identified multiple instances in which you or entities you own or control have made payments, purchased real estate, or provided gifts, travel, or other items of value to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and members of his family,” the letter to Crow states.
Thomas defended not disclosing the trips, arguing they fell under a “personal hospitality” exception under federal ethics laws that was recently clarified.
Democrats have expressed outrage at the recent reports and desire for an outside intervention at the Supreme Court to require the justices to establish a binding code of ethics.
“According to recent reports, individuals who may have had business interests or other interests before the Supreme Court have been able to gain personal and private access to Justices during occasions where Justices have accepted gifts of transportation or travel,” reads the letter sent to the entity that owns Crow’s yacht.
“These revelations include the transportation Rochelle Marine Ltd. gifted Justice Thomas on the Michaela Rose,” the letter continued. “Regardless of the intentions behind this travel, if these gifts enabled those with interests before the Court to have private access to a Justice, it is a matter of significant public concern.”
“We look forward to responding to Chairman Durbin’s letter in due course,” Crow’s office said in a statement.
The letters follow a similar request from the Senate Finance Committee. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also asked for a full accounting of gifts Crow gave to Thomas, questioning whether Crow fully complied with federal tax laws.
“Late last night, Chairman Wyden received an obstructive letter from an attorney representing Harlan Crow. The letter refused to provide answers to the questions Chairman Wyden put forward on April 24. The Finance Committee will respond shortly,” committee spokesperson Ryan Carey said in a statement on Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify on Supreme Court ethics at a hearing last week, but Roberts declined to do so or send another justice in his place.
Instead, Roberts provided the committee with a Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices that outlines how the justices consult a variety of authorities to decide ethical dilemmas.
At the hearing, Democrats vowed to move ahead with their push for a binding code of conduct, while many Republicans portrayed the effort as a tactic to tear down Thomas and the high court’s conservative majority. They have also taken aim at ethics controversies involving the court’s liberal justices.
Updated at 11:52 a.m.