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Senate Democrats request details on gifts to Clarence Thomas

Judiciary Committee sent four letters that asked for a detailed accounting this month from a billionaire GOP donor

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., center, at the Capitol last week.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., center, at the Capitol last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats requested more information from a billionaire GOP donor on gifts to Justice Clarence Thomas that included undisclosed luxury vacations, a real estate transaction and private school tuition for a relative.

The Judiciary Committee sent four letters Monday that asked for a detailed accounting by May 22 from Harlan Crow, as well as the entities that own his retreat, yacht and private plane.

The information “will help identify specific shortcomings” on the Supreme Court’s recently released statement on ethics for the justices, “as well as current law, that legislation needs to address,” the letter to Crow states.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden already had sent a similar letter to Crow with a deadline of May 8. Wyden has not announced whether Crow met the deadline, and a representative for Wyden could not be immediately reached for comment.

Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., in a Sunday appearance on CNN where he was pressed about the extent of the Democratic response to reporting about the gifts to Thomas, said “everything is on the table.”

“The conclusion most people would reach is that this tangled web around Justice Clarence Thomas just gets worse and worse by the day,” Durbin said.

Durbin for weeks has urged Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the Supreme Court to act. But late Sunday he foreshadowed the letters in a tweet that said Democrats on the Judiciary Committee would act since “the court won’t.”

Durbin has so far been hamstrung by GOP opposition to any response to the reports on Crow in the narrowly divided Senate. The committee held a hearing on Supreme Court ethics last week, one where Roberts declined an invitation to testify.

Durbin told reporters last week he may not try to issue subpoenas for Roberts or Thomas, citing the lack of history for successful subpoenas for Supreme Court justices. Durbin has also said he may not be able to issue subpoenas at all due to the extended absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Republican opposition.

Wyden’s letter spotlighted several reports from ProPublica, including decades of luxury vacations on Crow’s private resorts, trips on his yacht and private jet, as well as an undisclosed real estate sale from Thomas to Crow. According to the report, the sale included the house Thomas’ mother still lives in.

“This unusual arrangement raises a myriad of questions, not least whether Justice Thomas’s mother continued to reside at a property you have owned for nearly a decade,” Wyden said.

Last week Wyden said “we’re looking at a variety of approaches” in response to Crow if he does not respond to the letter. Wyden declined to say whether the panel would subpoena Crow or seek his tax records directly from the IRS.

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