Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday he was “advised” that there was no need to report lavish trips he took for years with a Texas billionaire GOP donor while serving on the high court, and that he would do so in the future.
In a rare statement released by the Supreme Court, Thomas said he was “advised” by his colleagues in the judiciary “that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends” was not something that needed to be reported under the court’s guidelines at the time.
The conservative justice added that it was his intent to follow new reporting rules instituted by the Supreme Court last month.
Thomas had “accepted luxury trips virtually every year” from Crow for more than two decades without reporting them, including on Crow’s personal jet, ProPublica reported in a bombshell story on Thursday. His failure to disclose the trips appeared to violate a law requiring judges, members of Congress, and other federal officials to report most gifts, including private jet flights, according to the article.
Thomas did disclose in 2004 expensive gifts and private plane trips paid for by Crow, but he appeared to stop doing so after the Los Angeles Times reported on them, the outlet noted on Thursday.
The story generated widespread outrage from congressional Democrats and unusual silence from Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for instituting a binding code of ethics for the high court and urged Chief Justice John Roberts to launch an ethics investigation into Thomas’ trips.
“This cries out for the kind of independent investigation that the Supreme Court — and only the Supreme Court, across the entire government — refuses to perform,” Whitehouse said.
No Republican lawmakers, including those who serve on the judiciary committees in the House and Senate, have weighed in on the matter.
Whitehouse reacted to Thomas’ explanation dismissively on Friday, suggesting that it strained credulity for a Supreme Court justice to claim that luxury vacations with top conservatives like Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society, amounted to nothing more than personal leisure.
“Oh, please,” Whitehouse tweeted. “If you’re smoking cigars with Leonard Leo and other right-wing fixers, you should know they don’t just have business before the Court — their business IS the Court.”