Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has tried to cultivate a public persona of down-home simpleness, a man of few words and plain spokenness. But a new exposé by ProPublica finds that he's been accepting, and not disclosing, lavish yacht trips, vacations, and private jet flights from a conservative billionaire pal for years.
I don't know who the audience was for the 2020 documentary Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words. But in it, Thomas can be heard talking about what a simple man he is, and how he likes to vacation like many Americans, in an RV.
"I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that," Thomas said. "There's something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock, and I prefer being around that."
Bullshit! First of all, no one prefers a Walmart parking lot to a beach. Secondly, for nearly 30 years, Thomas has been close pals with Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer, who has lavished Thomas with gifts and free trips on his private jet and yacht — hardly the stuff of "regular stock."
The ProPublica piece includes details about a nine-day island-hopping trip to Indonesia in 2019, all aboard Crow's well-staffed yacht, with 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," ProPublica reports.
Thomas also "spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks," and took a trip on Crow's yacht around New Zealand "about a decade ago," according to ProPublica's report. And at some point, or perhaps multiple times, Crow has helped ferry Thomas to the controversial, ever secretive, all-male retreat in Sonoma County known as Bohemian Grove — a notorious summer gathering hosted by the Bohemian Club that has drawn major political figures on the left and right. (Amusingly, this New York Times writer didn't seem to know what it was, and instead refers to it as "Mr. Crow’s all-male private retreat in Monte Rio, Calif.")
In many of these instances, Thomas was likely brought in contact with businesspeople and others who might have wanted access to a Supreme Court Justice for their own reasons. Crow gave a statement to ProPublica, rejecting the idea that politics or trying to sway Thomas was an ever a problem. Crow said he is “unaware of any of our friends ever lobbying or seeking to influence Justice Thomas on any case, and I would never invite anyone who I believe had any intention of doing that." And, he added, "These are gatherings of friends."
Thomas has likely wanted to believe that he was shielded, ethically, by a disclosure rule for Supreme Court justices that allows them to accept invitations to people's private homes without disclosing those. But that certainly doesn't include private jet flights, yachts, or anything like that — and Toplands, Crow's resort in the Adirondacks that was owned by the same heiress who built Mar-a-Lago, is hardly his residence and is technically owned by a company, ProPublica reports.
"Justices are generally required to publicly report all gifts worth more than $415, defined as 'anything of value' that isn’t fully reimbursed," ProPublica notes.
This is just the latest headache for Thomas, who was called out last year for failing to recuse himself in cases related to the 2020 election, after it became known that his wife, Ginny Thomas, was one of the banshees circling on January 6th and the months leading up to it, denying the election results and egging Trump on not to concede power.
Thomas did not respond to ProPublica with their requests for comment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin [D-IL] said in a statement to CNN that the ProPublica report was "a call to action" and that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will act.”