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Justice Clarence Thomas says he didn't believe he had to report trips with billionaire GOP donor

Thomas responds to criticism over luxury trips
Clarence Thomas says he didn't believe he had to disclose luxury trips paid for by GOP donor 00:32

Washington — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday that he did not believe he was required to report luxury trips and vacations he accepted from a billionaire and GOP megadonor, and vowed to comply with new guidelines clarifying the type of gifts justices must disclose publicly.

Thomas issued a statement in response to a report in ProPublica outlining a decades-long history of Thomas and his wife Virginia "Ginny" Thomas vacationing with Harlan Crow, a Texas real estate magnate and Republican donor. The report detailed trips Thomas took on Crow's private plane and luxury yacht, as well as vacations to Crow's private resort in New York and a ranch in Texas. One trip to Indonesia in 2019 would have cost the Thomases $500,000 if they paid for it themselves, according to ProPublica. Thomas did not disclose any of the trips on financial disclosure forms.

In his statement Friday, Thomas said the Crows "are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years," and that he and his wife "have joined them on a number of family trips." He wrote that he had consulted with "colleagues and others in the judiciary" earlier in his career, who "advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable."

"I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines," Thomas said. "These guidelines are now being changed, as the committee of the Judicial Conference responsible for financial disclosure for the entire federal judiciary just this past month announced new guidance. And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future."

The change in guidelines was adopted in March by the Judicial Conference, the body that sets policy for the federal courts. Under the law, all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, are required to file financial disclosure forms disclosing outside income, gifts and other information. Gifts considered "personal hospitality," however, are not required to be reported. The new requirements clarified the definition of that exemption, saying the "personal hospitality" provided must be for a "nonbusiness purpose" and not "paid for by any individual or entity other than the individual providing the hospitality."

The ProPublica report reignited calls from Democratic lawmakers for Supreme Court justices to adhere to a code of conduct that currently only applies to lower federal judges.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Thomas' actions were "simply inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any public servant, let alone a Justice on the Supreme Court."

"Today's report demonstrates, yet again, that Supreme Court Justices must be held to an enforceable code of conduct, just like every other federal judge," Durbin said in a statement. "The Pro Publica report is a call to action, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will act."

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