The teaser at the start of Jonathan V. Last’s newsletter this morning was: “Guess which Supreme Court justice has lavish travel paid for by a billionaire but never discloses it?” Without hesitation, my first guess was Justice Clarence Thomas, and guess what? I was right! But even so, my jaw dropped when I read the extent to which Justice Thomas has been the recipient of lavish gifts and travel that he failed to report. Read it for yourself … and I highly recommend the Pro Publica article he references, as well!
From The Triad
There is no more important piece for you to read today than this Pro Publica investigation into Justice Clarence Thomas’s relationship with billionaire Harlan Crow:
IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.
If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.
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.
These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.
The least important aspect of this story is the hypocrisy. But we’re going to dwell on it for a moment anyway. Because I can’t stop myself.
Here’s another line from the story:
In Thomas’ public appearances over the years, he has presented himself as an everyman with modest tastes.
“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States,” Thomas said in a recent interview for a documentary about his life, which Crow helped finance.
“I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” Thomas said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.”
Who am I to doubt Justice Thomas. I’m certain he does prefer RV parks and Walmart parking lots to pretentious settings like this one:
CROW’S PRIVATE lakeside resort, Camp Topridge, sits in a remote corner of the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Closed off from the public by ornate wooden gates, the 105-acre property, once the summer retreat of the same heiress who built Mar-a-Lago, features an artificial waterfall and a great hall where Crow’s guests are served meals prepared by private chefs. Inside, there’s clear evidence of Crow and Thomas’ relationship: a painting of the two men at the resort, sitting outdoors smoking cigars alongside conservative political operatives. A statue of a Native American man, arms outstretched, stands at the center of the image . . .
I admire Thomas’s willingness to endure such opulence just to put his friend, Harlan, at ease. Because even though Justice Thomas would surely prefer a Walmart parking lot, Harlan clearly would not feel comfortable in such environs. And so Justice Thomas makes—routinely— the kind of sacrifice that true friends make for one another.
A man hath no greater love than this: That he lay down by an artificial waterfall at a private resort for his friends.
Harlan Crow himself is an interesting fellow. For instance, like many of the ultra rich, he inherited much of his wealth.
Also, here he is giving an interview to Harvard Business School’s Dallas club in which he offers some advice to his younger self:
RH: What advice would you give your 35-year-old younger self?
HC: It’s not as hard as you think.
Look, I shouldn’t poke fun. One of the downsides to immense wealth is that it robs a man of the capacity for self-awareness.
I’m sorry: There’s more.
Crow also bankrolled a group that paid Justice Thomas’s wife a six-figure salary:
Over the years, some details of Crow’s relationship with the Thomases have emerged. In 2011, The New York Times reported on Crow’s generosity toward the justice. That same year, Politico revealed that Crow had given half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas, which also paid her a $120,000 salary.
We’ve talked about Ginni Thomas before. I’m sure sure this donation was purely because he believed in the genius of her vision.
All of that is fluff, though. The real story here is that the Supreme Court has rules about financial disclosures.
Thomas didn’t report any of the trips ProPublica identified on his annual financial disclosures. Ethics experts said the law clearly requires disclosure for private jet flights and Thomas appears to have violated it.
Justices are supposed to disclose gifts worth more than $415. Just Thomas appears to have used Harlan Crow’s private jet not just for vacations, but almost like a taxi, even using it for a jaunt from Washington to New Haven.
But don’t worry. I’m sure there will be serious repercussions.