It seems impossible for 24 hours to pass without another major revelation expanding the already overwhelming scope of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ corruption. In the latest news, The Washington Post reports that conservative activist Leonard Leo funneled “tens of thousands” to Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas. And to make it clear that everyone involved knew this was sketchy as hell, Leonard instructed that the money be billed through a company with “No mention of Ginni, of course.”
Leonard is a former vice president of the Federalist Society and connected to a network of “nonprofits” whose task was to get more conservative judges in place. One of those groups, the Judicial Education Project, had an upcoming case before the Supreme Court. Leonard went to Kellyanne Conway, then a Republican pollster, and had her bill the Judicial Education Project $25,000 for “constitution polling and opinion consulting” that does not seem to have been done. The money was then sent to Liberty Consulting, a company owned by Ginni Thomas.
If the idea for sending the money originated with Leonard, then it’s an obvious bribe. If the request for the money came from either Ginni or Clarence Thomas, then it’s out and out extortion. Either way, it appears to be such a blatant example of criminal activity that it could result in charges.
In all, the Post reported that Conway's company, the Polling Company, paid GInni Thomas’ company at least $80,000 over the course of a year. It’s not clear that any actual work was done in connection with those payments—unless you count the work of Clarence Thomas.
A few months after the Judicial Education Project sent money to Ginni Thomas via Conway, they were in court in a case called Shelby County v. Holder, supporting an effort to strike down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the VRA was eliminated in a 5-4 vote, with Thomas providing the deciding vote that put Judicial Education Project on the winning side.
Thomas even took the time to issue a concurring opinion saying that “the conditions that originally justified [the Voting Rights Act] no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.” and that “blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare.” According to Thomas, minority voting and white voting are “near parity,” and there are many minority candidates so … no need for the VRA. The opinion went on to slap down Congress for continuing to uphold the VRA.
You can’t say that the Judicial Education Project didn’t get good value for their money.
Leonard, who had direct or indirect involvement with a number of cases before the Court, has provided a statement to the Post claiming that he’s a “dear friend” of Clarence and Virginia Thomas and has known them for years. It seems that Clarence Thomas has a number of good friends … all of whom are standing by with checkbooks.
And, just as in other instances in which large sums of money came his way, Thomas reported none of this. Neither did he take any steps to recuse himself from cases related to payments being made to his wife through Leonard, Conway, or other conservative activists.
On Thursday, a report from ProPublica revealed that Thomas’ great benefactor, Republican moneyman and conservative activist Harlan Crow, paid as much as $150,000 to cover the tuition of a grandnephew that Thomas was raising. Even though the young man was being raised in Thomas’s home, Crow claims he made the payments because he was “less fortunate” and an “at-risk youth.” Thomas did not report this gift, even though he did report $5,000 that was given by someone else toward the education of the same grandnephew. Which is good evidence that Thomas knew Crow’s lavish gift was over the line.
That discovery followed the earlier news that Crow purchased land from Clarence Thomas and paid to upgrade Thomas’ mother’s home. Real estate deals are one of the few things that Supreme Court justices are required to report in all cases. Thomas did not. Not only did Crow buy the property from Thomas, he paid what appears to be far above the fair market value. Considering that Crow has done nothing with the real estate he purchased–other than upgrading the house he supposedly bought for Thomas’ mother and allowing her to continue living there rent free–it’s hard to see this deal as anything short of a $133,000 payment to Thomas.
That came a week after it was discovered that Thomas had likely broken the law by failing to disclose lavish trips and gifts that Crow had been giving him for over two decades. The value of what Crow provided to Thomas has been estimated as over $500,000. Thomas issued an angry response insisting that “Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.” And it’s true; friends do sometimes vacation together. What’s unusual is for one of those friends to pick up the bill on those vacations. Every. Single. Time.
Again, Thomas seems to have very select taste in picking his “dear friends.”
On Friday, Senate Judiciary chair Dick Dubin had a predictably weak response, calling on Chief Justice John Roberts to do “something.”
"I hope that the Chief Justice understands that something must be done,” said Durbin. “The reputation and credibility of the Court is at stake."
This has gone way past the “something” stage. The only acceptable action is for Thomas to resign. While that’s happening, the Justice Department can start putting together a case on either bribery or extortion, because while the Supreme Court may exempt itself from many of those pesky rules that bother lesser courts, what Thomas has done goes way past an appearance of corruption. It’s just corruption.
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.