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Crow sidesteps panel’s questions about gifts to Clarence Thomas

GOP billionaire told the Senate Judiciary Committee he did not have to answer questions about the Supreme Court justice

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is seen in the Capitol last week.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is seen in the Capitol last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A billionaire Republican donor brushed off questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about his relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas, in a letter Monday that argues the panel did not have the authority to investigate the lavish gifts he provided to the member of the Supreme Court.

An attorney for Harlan Crow told the committee Crow did not have to answer questions about reports Thomas did not disclose that Crow had provided luxury vacations for the justice, bought property from him and paid for a relative’s private education.

“Congress does not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules and standards on the Supreme Court,” attorney Michael Bopp wrote in a letter obtained by CQ Roll Call. “Doing so would exceed Congress’s Article I authority and violate basic separation of powers principles. That precludes the Committee from pursuing an investigation in support of such legislation.”

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

Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said in a news release that the letter was inadequate and said the panel would take steps in response soon.

“Harlan Crow believes the secrecy of his lavish gifts to Justice Thomas is more important than the reputation of the highest court of law in this land. He is wrong,” Durbin said.

The letter from Crow to the Judiciary Committee is his latest brush with congressional oversight into his relationship with Thomas. Last month, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden sent a letter to Crow asking for an accounting of his gifts to Thomas.

Unsatisfied with the response, Wyden sent another letter with a June 3 deadline asking for information about Crow’s largesse to Thomas as well as his compliance with gift tax laws.

“It goes without saying, but Mr. Crow is not a branch of government,” Wyden said.

Congressional Democrats have not been able to take concrete steps on Supreme Court ethics legislation despite calls from a broad range of activists to investigate the relationship or pass bills. Durbin has said that he does not plan to subpoena Thomas or Roberts.

Republicans control the House and Democrats have a one-seat margin in the Senate, and the GOP has equated ethics concerns about Thomas with broader attacks on the court.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a letter Thursday that argued the panel should turn to other priorities like the fentanyl epidemic and problems with illegal immigration. The letter, signed by all 10 GOP members of the panel, urged Durbin to withdraw his effort to find more about the relationship between Crow and Thomas.

“These demands are especially troubling given the significant separation of powers concerns at issue and the relentless political campaign to attack and undermine confidence in the Court,” the Republicans’ letter said.

ProPublica reported that Crow provided luxury vacations at a private retreat and using a plane and yacht owned by Crow. The news outlet also reported that Crow bought property from Thomas where Thomas’ mother still lives and paid for a relative’s education at a private school when Thomas served as the boy’s legal guardian.

Crow spoke with The Atlantic about his relationship with Thomas in an interview published Monday where he denied any wrongdoing and said they did not discuss court cases.

“It would be absurd to me to talk to Justice Thomas about Supreme Court cases, because that’s not my world,” Crow told The Atlantic.

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