And the money keeps rolling in from Harlan Crow


For Clarence Thomas, every day reveals another gift. There’s only one way for this to end. Are you listening Chief Justice Roberts?

(Note: the image accompanying this story is from the Times’ Maureen Dowd’s column today, “Supremely Arrogant.” I don’t believe there can be a better image of the current status of the Supreme Court than this one. In her Op-Ed, Dowd not only takes on Thomas but his fellow conservative…and arrogant…colleagues, Justices Gorsuch and Alito. And, yes, Chief Justice Roberts as well.)

With apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice who wrote the original song from “Evita:”

ProPublica’s ongoing exposé of billionaire Harlan Crow’s largesse to Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas reveals a new “gift” almost daily. The latest? Crow paid for private school for a relative Thomas said he was raising “as a son.” Per ProPublica:

In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was “raising him as a son.”

Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

The payments extended beyond that month, according to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school. Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he was a student there, which was about a year, Grimwood told ProPublica.

“Harlan picked up the tab,” said Grimwood, who got to know Crow and the Thomases and had access to school financial information through his work as an administrator.

In a dancing on the head of a pin defense of this latest unreported gift, the Times reported this statement from a Thomas “friend:”

In his statement, Mark Paoletta, Justice Thomas’s friend and a former official for the Trump administration, argued that the justice was not required to report the tuition. He pointed to part of a 1978 law that says judges must disclose gifts to dependent children, who are defined as “a son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter.” (emphasis mine) Mr. Paoletta stressed that by that measure, a great-nephew does not qualify.

“This malicious story shows nothing except for the fact that the Thomases and the Crows are kind, generous and loving people who tried to help this young man,” Mr. Paoletta wrote.

This, despite the fact that Thomas gained legal custody of Martin and became his legal guardian around January 1998, according to court records.

As Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush said, referring to the cascade of gifts over the years, “This is way outside the norm. This is way in excess of anything I’ve seen.”

Painter said that when he was at the White House, an official who’d taken what Thomas had would have been fired: “This amount of undisclosed gifts? You’d want to get them out of the government.”

The ProPublica reporting states that Justice Thomas vacationed with Crow on luxury trips “virtually every year” for over 20 years. Thomas has traveled via Crow’s private jet and spent weeks island-hopping in luxury on his private yacht. One nine-day yacht excursion in 2019 would have cost Thomas an estimated $500,000 out-of-pocket, but Crow footed the bill for that and many other trips. 

Other vacations Crow apparently financed for Justice Thomas include trips to Crow’s ranch in Texas, to an all-male retreat in California, and to Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

But wasn’t there also a real estate deal as well? Funny that you mentioned it. Again, per ProPublica:

In 2014, one of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased a string of properties on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t a marquee acquisition for the real estate magnate, just an old single-story home and two vacant lots down the road. What made it noteworthy were the people on the other side of the deal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relatives.

The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.

The disclosure form Thomas filed for that year also had a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, such as a real estate deal. That space is blank.

What’s been Thomas’ response to all this?

“Early in my tenure at the court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable,” Justice Thomas said. “I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”

Right, the Yale-educated Supreme Court Justice wasn’t aware enough of the law that he had to to seek “guidance” from “colleagues and others in the judiciary.”

If you believe that, I really do have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell to you!

Or, as Lisa Graves, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy opined, “He (Thomas) needs to name every person he spoke with who gave him such advice, and whether they’re in government or outside the government. Because I would be shocked if he actually told any official the specifics of what he was doing and that they said it was OK not to disclose it.”

In another statement of no wrong-doing, Thomas wrote, “Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips.” To which Crow told ProPublica that his gifts to Thomas were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

Extended to “many other dear friends?” As Connecticut senator Chris Murphy tweeted, “It’s not like Harlan Crow is some apolitical pal of Thomas. He CONSTANTLY has cases before the court. He funds groups that argue for outcomes that benefit him. One group, CCI, filed 8 briefs before the Court. Thomas sided with Crow in all 8 cases.”

And “best friend” Ginni Thomas?

As reported by Bess Levin of Vanity Fair:

Conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo arranged for the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be paid tens of thousands of dollars for consulting work just over a decade ago, specifying that her name be left off billing paperwork, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. In January 2012, Leo instructed the GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to bill a nonprofit group he advises and use that money to pay Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the documents show. The same year, the nonprofit, the Judicial Education Project, filed a brief to the Supreme Court in a landmark voting rights case.

Leo, a key figure in a network of nonprofits that has worked to support the nominations of conservative judges, told Conway that he wanted her to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” the documents show. He emphasized that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.”

The story led Levin to write, “It sure sounds like Clarence and Ginni Thomas are the most corrupt couple in Washington.”

I’ll close with another apology to Sir Andrew and Mr. Rice:

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

4 thoughts on “And the money keeps rolling in from Harlan Crow

  1. and did you know that David Brooks, the NY Times, columnist, is a personal friend of Harlan Crow?  He announced it Friday evening on the PBS Newshour.  He thinks Crow did nothing wrong, with the caveat of saying that he’s a long-term friend.  He thinks that Crow has no business coming before the Supreme Court so it’s OK.  He doesn’t think that Thomas is right – he should resign, he thinks. Hy


    1. He right, Crow did nothing wrong. But Thomas did everything wrong! Crow can offer anything he wants, but Thomas either needed to not accept the gifts or, at the very least, report them. And, based on Senator Murphy’s tweet, which I did not independently confirm, Crow, through an organization he funds, did have cases before the court.

      This could be a once in a lifetime scandal. As I wrote a few posts ago, Thomas, with Roberts’ push, needs to do an Abe Fortas and resign!


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