Apr 10, 2023

Justice Thomas Took Lavish Trips Paid For by GOP Donor According to Investigative Report Transcript

Justice Thomas Took Lavish Trips Paid For by GOP Donor According to Investigative Report Transcript
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The trips were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and went unreported on Thomas’ financial disclosures. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Private jets, lavish trips and access to exclusive clubs, all provided to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for more than two decades by a Dallas businessman and Republican mega donor. That’s according to exclusive reporting today by ProPublica. The luxury trips around the globe were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and all went unreported on Justice Thomas’s financial disclosures. Josh Kaplan is one of the reporters who broke the story and joins us now. Josh, thanks for being here. And your reporting raises real questions about conflicts of interest, improper influence, Supreme Court ethics. What did you find?

Joshua Kaplan (00:39):

So we found that Justice Thomas has been accepting luxury lavish trips from a Dallas billionaire Republican donor virtually every year for over 20 years. So we found private jet flights around the world. We found international cruises on a super yacht, regular vacations at a invitation only private resort, all in secret. So one recent example is in 2019, the businessman whose name is Harlan Crow, flew Thomas to Indonesia on his private jet and then took him island hopping for nine days on a super yacht staffed by a private chef and a host of stewardess.

Speaker 1 (01:27):

Well, the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to our request for comment, but Mr. Crow told you that he’s been friends with Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, for more than 30 years, and that the hospitality he’s extended them over the years was no different from the hospitality he’s extended to his many other friends. And the statement also reads, “We have never asked about a pending or lower court case and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, and we have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue.” Is that statement sufficient based on your reporting?

Joshua Kaplan (02:05):

I mean, so there’s a broader question of influence here that is very much still an open question. These men have spent a lot of time together over the years and what they’ve discussed and whether Crow has had any influence on Thomas, whether that’s directly or indirectly is still unknown. So Crow has never personally had a case before the Supreme Court, but he has vast financial and ideological interests. He’s given over $10 million to Republican political campaigns, and that’s just in disclosed donations. He’s also given to dark money groups. We know that he has spent a lot of money, given a lot of money to groups that are dedicated to moving the judiciary and the law further to the right, including the Federalist Society. I mean, he also sits on the board of major conservative think tanks that their scholars published scholarship advancing conservative legal theories, and occasionally file amicus briefs with the Supreme Court.

Speaker 1 (03:08):

You spoke to a number of experts on the issue of disclosure requirements. What did they conclude upon reviewing your reporting?

Joshua Kaplan (03:16):

They concluded that Thomas appears to violated the disclosure law. There is a law that was passed after Watergate that requires high level officials from members of Congress to justices of the Supreme Court to disclose most gifts that they receive to the public. And it’s actually one of the few binding restrictions on the Supreme Court justices. And we talked to ethics lawyers and they said that he appears to have violated it here.

Speaker 1 (03:48):

Your reporting has prompted fresh calls from Democrats for the Supreme Court to adopt a strict ethics code. There are some calls for Justice Thomas to resign. I have to ask you, is Justice Clarence Thomas an outlier here or have other justices taken luxury vacations paid for and provided by the rich and powerful?

Joshua Kaplan (04:09):

So there are two answers to that question. In terms of what’s known, there’s nothing comparable in terms of the scale and frequency in Lavishness coming from a single source. Justice Scalia took a number of hunting trips with private individuals, often tacked on to the end of a lecture he was giving at a local Bar Association or something like that. Justices teach in Europe and obviously might enjoy themselves while they’re there. But this, what we found in terms of its scale has no known precedent in the modern history of the court. The fuller answer is that this all happened in secret and it wasn’t disclosed. Everything we found about Thomas took a lot of work. And so another way of answering that would be, we’re still looking.

Speaker 1 (05:07):

Josh Kaplan, reporter for ProPublica. Thanks for being with us and sharing your exclusive reporting today, Josh.

Joshua Kaplan (05:14):

Thank you for having me, sir.

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