Washington — Texas real estate developer and Republican donor Harlan Crow paid the tuition for Justice Clarence Thomas' grandnephew at two private schools, according to a report published Thursday.
The report from the news outlet ProPublica revealed that Crow wired $6,200 in July 2009 for one month of tuition for Mark Martin, Thomas' grandnephew, at Hidden Lake Academy in Dahlonega, Georgia, citing a bank statement filed in court as part of a bankruptcy case. The document shows the payment was made from Crow Holdings LLC, one of Crow's companies, and listed Martin's name.
A former administrator for the school, Christopher Grimwood, told ProPublica that Crow paid Martin's tuition during his tenure there, which was roughly a year. Grimwood said Crow also covered tuition for Martin at Randolph-Macon Academy, a boarding school in Front Royal, Virginia.
It's unclear from ProPublica's report how much Crow paid in total. Thomas did not include the tuition payments on financial disclosure forms filed with the Supreme Court, but did list in 2002 a $5,000 "education gift to Mark Martin" from another couple.
Thomas discussed his relationship with Martin, his sister's grandson, in an interview with C-SPAN in 2007. He said he and his wife, Ginni Thomas, began raising him when he was 6 years old.
"We're raising him as a son," Thomas said, noting that Martin, who was 16 at the time of the interview, lived with them. "He's more of a challenge than I was. And this is a different era. And he does sports, and all sorts of things. But I think the thing that I'll be able to do is, I'll be able to always look my grandfather in the eye and say that I did for my great-nephew what my grandparents did for us — my brother and me."
Crow is an alumnus of Randolph-Macon Academy, and his office said in a statement that he and his wife "have supported many young Americans through scholarship and other programs at a variety of schools, including his alma mater."
"Tuition and other financial assistance is given directly to academic institutions, not to students or to their families," his office said. "These scholarships and other contributions have always been paid solely from personal funds, sometimes held at and paid through the family business. It's disappointing that those with partisan political interests would try to turn helping at-risk youth with tuition assistance into something nefarious or political."
Martin told ProPublica he did not know Crow paid his tuition, but said he believes the real estate magnate's "intentions behind everything is just a friend and just a good person."
Mark Paoletta, a friend of Thomas, said in a statement defending the justice that Crow paid one year of tuition at both Randolph-Macon Academy and Hidden Lake Academy. He argued that Thomas was not required to disclose the tuition payments made to the two schools because Martin, as his grandnephew, was not considered a "dependent child" under federal law.
"This story is another attempt to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas. But let's be clear about what is supposedly scandalous now: Justice Thomas and his wife devoted twelve years of their lives to taking in and caring for a beloved child — who was not their own — just as Justice Thomas's grandparents had done for him," Paoletta continued. "They made many personal and financial sacrifices to do this. And along the way, their friends joined them in doing everything possible to give this child a future."
The ProPublica report is the latest in a series of revelations about Thomas' relationship with Crow, whose friendship dates back more than two decades. In addition to covering part of the tuition for Thomas' grandnephew, the news outlet revealed last month that the justice has taken vacations with Crow and traveled aboard his private jet and yacht. Crow also from Thomas in 2014, a deal worth more than $133,000, ProPublica reported.
In response to the revelations about the trips with Crow and travel arrangements, Thomasin a statement in early April that he and his wife have joined the Crows on a "number of family trips," and said he consulted with "colleagues and others in the judiciary" earlier in his career about whether it had to be reported on financial disclosure forms.
Thomas said he has "always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines" and pledged to follow new guidelines from the Judicial Conference in the future. The Supreme Court did not return a request for comment on Thursday's ProPublica report.
The reports have reignited calls on Capitol Hill for a binding code of conduct governing the nonjudicial conduct of Supreme Court justices. While judges on the U.S. District Courts and Courts of Appeals must adhere to a set of ethics rules, they do not cover the nine members of the Supreme Court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has sought answers and testimony from Chief Justice John Roberts about ethical standards at the high court, but hebefore the panel for a hearing Tuesday. Instead, Roberts provided to the committee a three-page "Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices" signed by the nine justices, to which they all adhere, he told Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin.
Durbin, an Ilinois Democrat, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday that the latest revelations about Crow and Thomas regarding the tuition payments should further motivate the Supreme Court to act on its own.
"I hope that Chief Justice Roberts reads this story this morning and understands something has to be done," he said. "The reputation of the Supreme Court is at stake here. The credibility of the court when it comes to its future decisions is at stake. And his reputation as the leader of this court is really an issue as well."
Republicans, though, have said the reports are part of a broader campaign to discredit Thomas. But GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters he believes Roberts and the justices should consider acting on their own.
"He has obviously been targeted because he's a conservative Black man and he's on the Supreme Court in an effort to undercut the legitimacy of the court," Cornyn said. "I think the best thing for Chief Justice Roberts and the judges to do is to take this experience and go back and consider whether changes in their code of ethics for the Supreme Court are appropriate. It's not for Congress to dictate as a co-equal, separate branch of government. But I think that would be — that would be a wise thing for the chief and his fellow justices to do."
Jack Turman contributed reporting.
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