The list of extraordinary gifts GOP megadonor Harlan Crow gave to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over the course of his tenure on the Court just seems to grow and grow.
Quick recap: ProPublica initially released an article detailing the two decades of Justice Thomas receiving travel and other gifts from Crow. A few days later, we got more details of the financial entanglement between the two men as it was revealed Crow bought from Thomas three pieces of property — including one Thomas’s mother lives on — and improved it, all with Thomas’s mother never paying rent. Plus another report found Crow paid for Thomas’s grandnephew — Mark Martin, who Thomas and his wife were raising “as a son” — to attend an elite school (well, actually two: Hidden Lake Academy and Randolph-Macon Academy).
With all the drips and drabs of information that have gradually been discovered and released by the press over the last month, it may not shock you to learn some folks would really like to know the full extent of Crow’s largesse to Thomas. Like, for example, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden. Wyden requested an accounting of the gifts from Crow to Thomas, arguing the gifts were substantial enough they should have been reported on Crow’s annual gift tax returns to the IRS. But, as reported by Politico, Crow is unwilling to produce those documents.
According to Ryan Carey, a spokesperson for Wyden (D-Ore.), the Senate tax chief received an “obstructive letter” from a lawyer for Crow late Monday night declining to answer a series of questions about the billionaire’s financial arrangements with Thomas that Wyden posed to Crow in an April 24 letter.
The Finance Committee is expected to respond shortly. Wyden has previously said he would “explore using other tools at the committee’s disposal” should Crow not cooperate with the request.
The Finance Committee may consider its subpoena power or tax code rules that may allow the Committee to get Crow’s tax returns from the Treasury Department. But, the GOP members of the Committee aren’t on board, with Sen. Mike Crapo, saying he’d oppose those efforts as they’d “undermine the independence of the Supreme Court and its individual Justices.”
Other Republicans have also come out in defense of Crow’s position:
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and 13 other Republican senators also wrote to Wyden on Monday to express concerns about Wyden’s request to Crow. The GOP lawmakers asserted the demands amounted to intimidation of a private citizen that had the ultimate goal of discrediting Thomas.
“We reject this manufactured ‘ethics crisis’ at the Supreme Court as a ploy to further Democrats’ efforts to undermine public confidence and change the makeup of the Court,” the Republicans wrote.
But no matter how much the GOP would like to wish away the growing Supreme Court ethics crisis away, it sure feels like a story with staying power.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on