Sharing the media stage this week with Donald Trump’s indictment and Tennessee’s march to unabashed fascism has been a bombshell investigative piece in Pro Publica titled Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire. It’s about the quarter-century showering of expensive gifts on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by real estate billionaire, Harlan Crow. Not for nothing, but if I was going to write a mystery novel with an evil, misanthropic billionaire I couldn’t have come up with a better name for the character. But even I wouldn’t have thought to make him an avid collector of Hitler memorabilia. Wow.
You have to read the Pro Publica article to get the full sense and scope of the sleaziness but it began, and until recently pretty much ended, with a 2004 article in the Los Angeles Times about Thomas’ curious relationship with Crow and the (then) hundreds of thousands of dollars lavished on Thomas by his “dear friend”. Since that article was published, Thomas stopped reporting these gifts, which only grew larger and more obscene. The potential corruption is also much larger than it appears on the surface.
It was reported that just one of those gifts — two weeks on board Crow’s 160-foot yacht, the Michaela Rose, in Indonesia with a full 13-member crew and fuel — has a market charter cost of a half-million dollars or roughly twice Thomas’ annual salary. That doesn’t include the round trip passage on Crow’s private $40 million Bombardier Global 5000 private jet.
Thomas has accepted these gifts every year he’s been on the Court — sometimes multiple times a year. His wife is a wealthy 2020 election-denier and prominent shill for ultra-right wing causes. To suggest that Thomas might have recusable conflicts with impartiality would be an understatement.
According to Thomas, Crow is a “dear friend” with no business before the court. Thomas seeks refuge under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act which requires federal officials to report all gifts in excess of $415 in value except “personal hospitality of any individual,” so long as the travel does not involve official business. That’s what’s stifled federal investigators under the presidents of both parties from drilling deeper into Thomas’ curious relationship with Crow.
The Pro Publica article said that one of those expensive gifts were regular stays at Crow’s very private resort, Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks. Because of its high security, inaccessibility and exclusivity the 60+ building complex is popular with the billionaire’s club which holds conclaves there to discuss lofty matters such as government regulation and lobbying activities.
Crow also flew Thomas to California’s Bohemian Grove, a male-only private compound and yet another VIP room for fat cats and board-room masters-of-the-universe.
So while Crow may protest that he personally has no matters before the court, there are still lots of unanswered questions. For instance, what about those resorts’ 0.01%er guests? Did they have Thomas’ ear while the latter basked in opulence, mud baths and Michelin-rated chefs? Like the inset photo here? Pro Publica reported that Thomas has enjoyed stays at Topridge every summer and that in 2017 he was there with “executives at Verizon and PricewaterhouseCoopers, major Republican donors and one of the leaders of the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business conservative think tank”.
So I think it’s fair to ask, is Crow just a pimp for Thomas to third parties seeking his favor, including insider information about SCOTUS proceedings? Is he just another Jeffrey Epstein catering to the illicit needs of the rich and powerful? Who else was aboard those yacht and private riverboat trips and on those long, global-hopping flights? We know that the stock market is subject to major upsets based on the outcome of big court cases. It doesn’t take much imagination to presume that a deep-pocket Wall Street investor would find sealed insider information about how SCOTUS will rule on a major lawsuit potentially worth millions.
Thomas is certainly aware of the negative optics of this seedy story. It’s why he stopped reporting these trips twenty years ago. To my knowledge, he’s since only reported two such gifts prominently displayed in his office: “a Bible that once belonged to abolitionist Frederick Douglass — a gift Thomas valued at $19,000 — and a bust of Abraham Lincoln valued at $15,000”. They can’t be explained away as “hospitality” but still deserve a better answer than “from a dear friend”.
Yes, I’ll go on record that I believed Anita Hill. I’ve always thought Thomas was a bit creepy, and that was before I read Pro Publica’s piece. He doesn’t have to throw court cases to be an invaluable asset to the billionaire class, even though he invariably sides with their interests without writing the opinion. From his position he can tip off third parties to the court’s secret deliberations, to cases headed its way, to defects in a plaintiff’s appeal, to how the Court will likely rule in a decision.
I would also ask any MAGA Republican who thinks that this is just another libtard witch hunt to ask themselves this: would you have a problem with George Soros giving millions of dollars in gifts to his “dear friend” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, taking her on vacations to bump elbows in private retreats with Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer? If you lie and say, “no”, GFY. You know damned well you would. Your cult is having conniptions over Justice Merchan’s daughter being a Democratic activist.