The rules of ethics in the U.S. judiciary have been so squishy that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife were able to enjoy decades of free travel from their friend, Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, without having to disclose it to the government.
ProPublica reported on the gifts of private-jet travel, yacht cruises, private-resorts stays and much more, which apparently were exempt from disclosure rules until just recently. A March change in the rules made it more likely Thomas will have to report these types of gifts in the future. Up to this point, The Washington Post says, Thomas has only ever reported two gifts in his entire time on the Court (since way back in 1991): an award from Yale Law School and a bust of Frederick Douglass from Crow.
Not reported over the years: a $500,000 trip to Indonesia in 2019; multiple trips to Bohemian Grove, a California all-male retreat; and multiple trips to Crow's ranch in Texas and resort in the Adirondacks.
Crow issued a statement, saying he has never tried to influence Thomas on court matters or discussed pending cases. They're just really, really, really, really good friends. "These are gatherings of friends," Crow said in the statement.
Thomas weighed in on Friday, saying he was advised long ago that personal gifts from friends—like the ones Crow offered—did not need to be reported. "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 he would follow the revised rules that would make such trips reportable. However, as The Post points out, disclosing some of these types of trips wouldn't be revealed to the public for as long as a year after the fact since disclosures are for the previous year's finances.
Predictably, political reaction has fallen along party lines, with Democrats seeking to investigate Thomas and perhaps get him impeached and Republicans suggesting it's no big deal and that Thomas was following the rules, which were badly in need of updating.
Thomas has already been scrutinized in recent years over some of the actions of his wife, Ginni: She tried to get involved in overturning Donald Trump's 2020 election loss and accepted $600,000 in anonymous donations to start a conservative action group to fight on cultural issues.
It sure seems like there is no shortage of people who want to give this couple free stuff or funds. File this under things that make you go hmmm.
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