"We do not make this request lightly": Senators demand criminal investigation into Clarence Thomas

The conservative Supreme Court justice has received millions of dollars worth of gifts from right-wing donors

Published July 9, 2024 2:41PM (EDT)

Associate US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022.  (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Associate US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on October 7, 2022. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are requesting a criminal investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for potentially violating federal ethics and tax laws.

In a letter written to Attorney General Merrick Garland last week, Whitehouse and Wyden requested the appointment of a Special Counsel to determine whether Thomas violated several laws in his failure to disclose a forgiven loan and gifts he received from benefactors. 

Thomas failed to disclose a forgiven loan of $267, 230.00 as income after he failed to repay said loan, which he used to purchase a luxury motorcoach.

It raises questions of whether Thomas “properly reported the associated income on his tax return,” a statement from Whitehouse reads. 

“We do not make this request lightly. The evidence assembled thus far plainly suggests that Justice Thomas has committed numerous willful violations of federal ethics and false-statement laws and raises significant questions about whether he and his wealthy benefactors have complied with their federal tax obligations,” the Senators wrote in the letter. 

The senators also requested that the Department of Justice name a special counsel to investigate the undisclosed gifts Thomas received from “billionaire benefactors,” including private jet travel, a country club membership, home renovations and tuition for his son. According to an investigation by ProPublica, Thomas has been treated to vacations by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow for over 20 years. 

Thomas, who has been a Supreme Court Justice for over 30 years, failed to disclose many of these gifts, which would violate ethical rules applied to other branches of the government. Members of Congress, for example, are generally prohibited from accepting gifts of $50 or more. In June, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-N.Y., introduced an act that would impose the same restriction on Supreme Court justices. 

In their letter, the senators demand that the court be held to an equal standard.

“Court justices are properly expected to obey laws designed to prevent conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety and to comply with the federal tax code,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you appoint a Special Counsel authorized to investigate potential criminal violations by Justice Thomas under the disclosure, false statement, and tax laws; pursue leads of related criminal violations by donors, lenders, and intermediate corporate entities; and determine whether any such loans and gifts were provided pursuant to a coordinated enterprise or plan."

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that local officials may now effectively accept de facto bribes if they come in the form of gratuities, like many of the gifts Justice Thomas himself has accepted, The Guardian reported.

Sen. Whitehouse has previously pressed for an investigation in Justice Thomas’ failure to disclose gifts, but did not previously request the appointment of a special counsel.

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