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Clarence Thomas took 3 undisclosed trips on private jet provided by GOP megadonor, committee says

Justice Thomas discloses trips with GOP donor
Justice Thomas discloses trips with GOP donor as justices file new reports 01:40

Washington — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas took three undisclosed trips aboard a private jet provided by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow between 2017 and 2021, according to documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee and released Thursday.

The records, which Crow turned over to the committee, show that Thomas traveled aboard Crow's private jet in May 2017 on a flight from St. Louis, Missouri, to Kalispell, Montana, with a return flight to Dallas two days later.

The second newly revealed trip on the plane took place in March 2019, from Washington, D.C., to Savannah, Georgia, and back. The third, in June 2021, included roundtrip flights between Washington and San Jose, California.

The committee said the documents were obtained as a result of its vote to authorize a subpoena for Crow in November. In addition to Crow, the panel's Democrats voted to issue a subpoena to conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo, who refused to comply with their demand for information. Crow's office said in April he had not received a subpoena from the committee.

A release from the committee noted that Thomas did not include the private jet travel in his most recent financial disclosure statement, which was released last week. The Supreme Court did not immediately return a request for comment.

Justice Clarence Thomas is seen during the Supreme Court's formal group photograph in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022.
Justice Clarence Thomas is seen during the Supreme Court's formal group photograph in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"Nearly $4.2 million in gifts and even that wasn't enough for Justice Thomas, with at least three additional trips the Committee found that he has failed to disclose to date," Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin said in a statement. "The Senate Judiciary Committee's ongoing investigation into the Supreme Court's ethical crisis is producing new information — like what we've revealed today — and makes it crystal clear that the highest court needs an enforceable code of conduct, because its members continue to choose not to meet the moment."

Crow's office said in a statement that he reached an agreement with the panel to turn over information going back seven years in response to Democrats' requests for lists of travel, gifts, lodging or other transactions he provided to any member of the Supreme Court.

"Despite his serious and continued concerns about the legality and necessity of the inquiry, Mr. Crow engaged in good faith negotiations with the Committee from the beginning to resolve the matter," Crow's office said. "As a condition of this agreement, the Committee agreed to end its probe with respect to Mr. Crow."

Durbin said the documents also showed travel aboard Crow's private jet for a trip to Bali, Indonesia, in July 2019, an eight-day "yacht excursion" for that vacation and private jet travel for a July 2019 trip to Santa Rosa, California.

The two trips in July 2019, to Indonesia and California, were reported by Thomas in an amendment to his 2019 financial disclosure form, which was included in his latest disclosure covering 2023 released last week. Thomas reported receiving food and lodging at a private club and hotel. He did not include the trips aboard the private plane or yacht. His report said the lodging information was "inadvertently omitted" from his original filing.

Durbin also said the dates of the Indonesia trip reported by Thomas differ from those listed in documents Crow provided.

The Judiciary Committee has been investigating ethics issues at the Supreme Court for roughly a year. The probe was sparked by reporting from the news outlet ProPublica that detailed trips Thomas took with Crow, including the Bali vacation, which had not been included on his financial disclosure reports.

Thomas said last year that he did not believe he was required to disclose the travel and pledged to comply with guidelines about personal hospitality issued last year by the Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for the federal courts. His financial disclosure report for 2022 listed flights Thomas took aboard Crow's private plane, as well as lodging at his property in the Adirondacks. Thomas also provided details about a 2014 real estate transaction with Crow that ProPublica revealed.

Thomas' relationship with Crow led Senate Democrats to pressure the Supreme Court to adopt a formal code of conduct, and the Judiciary panel advanced legislation last July that would've required the court to put binding ethics rules in place. But the measure has not been taken up for a vote on the Senate floor, and an attempt by Durbin on Wednesday to unanimously pass the ethics bill was blocked by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The Supreme Court did unveil its own code of conduct in November, but it did not include a means of enforcement, and Democrats criticized the ethics rules as inadequate. 

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