Billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow defended his business transactions and gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in an interview published Monday in The Atlantic.
“It was a fair-market transaction, and I had a purpose,” Crow said of his purchase of Thomas’ mother’s home—in which she continued living. “I don’t see the foot fault.”
The $100,000-plus real estate deal between Crow and Thomas in 2014, which in total involved three separate properties, came under scrutiny following reporting by the non-profit outlet ProPublica.
The same outlet had previously revealed that Thomas and his wife Ginni, a GOP political activist, were gifted with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of annual vacations and trips by the Texas billionaire for decades. It’s estimated that at least one trip—to Indonesia in 2019—would have cost the Thomases more than $500,000 had they chartered the reported private plane and yacht themselves.
The transactions have sparked an investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee, amid which Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) has warned Chief Justice John Roberts that if the Supreme Court doesn’t end its practice as virtually the only court in the U.S. operating without a formal code of ethics, Congress will create one for it.
In his interview with The Atlantic, Crow insisted that he would “never, nor would I ever, think about talking about matters that relate to the judiciary with Justice Clarence Thomas”—then he later clarified in a follow-up email, “It’s not like we haven’t talked about work-related issues,” but insisted those conversations had been casual.
Responding to The Atlantic’s questioning of the trips he provided to Thomas, Crow said, “I’m not trying to say I’m this moral paragon, because I’m not. I’m just a guy that made lots of mistakes in my life. But I do believe that I’m on the right side of right, morally and legally.”
For his part, Justice Thomas responded to ProPublica’s reporting by saying he “was advised” that he did not have to disclose the trips donated by Crow.
Federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, are required to disclose the details of most real estate transactions valued at over $1,000. Thomas would not have been required to report the purchase if the property were his or his spouse’s primary personal residence, but this stipulation does not apply to the reported transaction with Crow, which Thomas also did not report.