When ex-President Donald Trump sued to block the release of White House documents and communications sought by the House committee investigating his effort to overturn the 2020 election, there was only one member of the Supreme Court to take his side: Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas did not disclose it at the time, but we now know that he had a significant conflict of interest in this and related cases.
His wife, Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, repeatedly communicated with White House officials in her effort to improperly overturn Joe Biden’s election win, according to a new report by CBS News and The Washington Post. She disclosed in a March 14 interview with the conservative Washington Free Beacon that she attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally at the Ellipse, but said she got cold and left before it turned into a violent insurrection aimed at stopping Congress’ certification of electoral votes.
Ginni Thomas’ messages to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reveal she was more than just a rally attendee. She sent Meadows outlandish and false conspiracy theories promoted by lawyer Sidney Powell, claiming widespread election fraud that implicated hundreds of people, if not thousands, around the globe, including long-dead Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Thomas even sent Meadows a text quoting a far-right conspiracy theory falsely claiming that the “Biden crime family” had been arrested and were en route to the extrajudicial U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The text messages between Meadows and Thomas came to light after Meadows handed over some documents to the Jan. 6 committee before he claimed executive privilege and stopped complying. The documents the committee won the right to obtain in the courts could include further communications from Thomas to Meadows or other Trump administration figures. The committee received the documents it sought from the Trump White House in January. The texts revealed this week came from a batch of documents Meadows initially gave to the committee.
Clarence Thomas never disclosed that his wife was involved in the plot to overturn the 2020 election while continuing to hear and rule on cases related to that plot. A key reason why is that the Supreme Court is not bound to any code of ethics. When they have a conflict on a case, justices recuse themselves on their own honor, not because they are bound by law or any code.
“Today’s revelations mean that now, beyond any doubt, Justice Thomas must recuse from any Supreme Court cases or petitions related to the Jan. 6 Committee or efforts to overturn the election,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonprofit that advocates for judicial ethics rules, said in a statement.
“At the bare minimum, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case related to the January 6th investigation, and should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement on Friday.
The main case at issue in the Clarence Thomas scandal is Donald Trump v. Bennie Thompson. Trump sued the Democratic congressman from Mississippi, in his capacity as chair of the Jan. 6 committee, claiming executive privilege over a series of documents sought by the panel. These documents included schedules, diaries, call logs and memos ― and the Meadows communications.
Trump wanted the Supreme Court to stay, or block, an appeals court ruling rejecting his executive privilege claim over these documents. Clarence Thomas stated that he “would grant the application” to block the release of the documents.
This apparent conflict of interest raises the question of whether Thomas knew of his wife’s involvement in the plot to overturn the 2020 election. Ginni Thomas told the Free Beacon that she doesn’t “involve [Clarence Thomas] in my work.” But her texts to Meadows hint that she very well could have been talking to her husband as she binge-watched cable news and sobbed into her phone (also details she texted to Meadows).
In response to a text from Meadows encouraging her to keep fighting, Ginni Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”
Who is Ginni Thomas’ “best friend?” Well, the Thomases regularly refer to each other as their own “best friend.”
“My wife is my best friend,” Clarence Thomas told students at Stetson University College of Law in 2010. “I can rant with her.”
“I love to spend time with my wife, who is totally my best friend,” Thomas said at the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual lecture in 2019.
“It’s his wife, it’s his best friend, his most trusted confidante, and he loves her unconditionally,” former conservative pundit and Thomas friend Armstrong Williams recently told told The New York Times about the voicemail Ginni Thomas left for Anita Hill, the former Thomas aide who accused him of sexual harassment in 1991.
“My wife is my best friend in the whole word,” Clarence Thomas said in a 2012 speech to University of Florida law students.
“It’s great to be married to your best friend,” Thomas said at a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in 1999.
Did Clarence Thomas give his wife, his “best friend,” a pep talk to help her continue her fight to try and overturn a legitimate democratic election?
The liberal ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked a similar question: “When Clarence Thomas voted to block Congress from getting January 6th docs from the Trump administration, did he know his wife’s participation would be in there?”
Questions of judicial ethics have been of paramount interest to the court in recent months. In his 2021 end-of-year message, Chief Justice John Roberts noted a Wall Street Journal article that found 131 federal judges had ruled in cases involving companies they owned stock in. Unlike Supreme Court justices, these judges are bound by a code of ethics.
“That was inconsistent with a federal ethics statute … which requires that a judge recuse in any matter in which the judge knows of a personal financial interest, no matter how small,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts added: “We are duty-bound to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function. Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and spirit of our rules, as most are.”
As of now, the Clarence Thomas scandal shows that the Supreme Court considers itself above complying with its own “spirit” of judicial ethics.