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Senate Probe Reveals Thomas Took More Undisclosed Trips on Harlan Crow’s Jet

The gifts make “crystal clear that the highest court needs an enforceable code of conduct” said Sen. Dick Durbin.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas while he waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ decadeslong friendship with real estate tycoon Harlan Crow and Samuel Alito’s luxury travel with billionaire Paul Singer have raised questions about influence and ethics at the nation’s highest court.

Billionaire political donor Harlan Crow provided at least three previously undisclosed private jet trips to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in recent years, an investigation by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats has found.

The flights, which were detailed by Crow’s lawyer in response to inquiries from the committee, took the justice to destinations including the region near Glacier National Park in Montana and Thomas’ hometown in Georgia.

The committee launched its investigation in response to ProPublica reporting last year that revealed numerous undisclosed gifts Crow provided to Thomas, including private school tuition for a relative and luxury vacations virtually every year for more than two decades. Democrats on the committee authorized a subpoena for information from Crow last November, but the subpoena was not issued, and the new information came as a result of negotiations between the Senate and Crow’s attorneys.

It’s possible more revelations are yet to come. The office of the panel’s chair, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that a report detailing the full findings of committee Democrats’ investigation would be released later in the summer.

“As a result of our investigation and subpoena authorization, we are providing the American public greater clarity on the extent of ethical lapses by Supreme Court justices,” Durbin said in a statement. He added that the newly discovered gifts make “crystal clear that the highest court needs an enforceable code of conduct.”

Crow’s office said in a statement that he gave the senators information covering the past seven years and that the committee “agreed to end its probe with respect to Mr. Crow.”

“Despite his serious and continued concerns about the legality and necessity of the inquiry, Mr. Crow engaged in good faith with the Committee,” the statement said.

Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The newly revealed flights add to the picture of Thomas’ frequent use of Crow’s jet for personal travel, allowing the justice to fly in the style of the ultrawealthy. Crow owns a high-end Bombardier Global 5000, a jet that can cost over $10,000 per flight hour to charter, according to charter company estimates. Thomas has repeatedly flown to a destination and back again on the same day.

The relationship between the two men began on Crow’s jet: In 1996, Crow offered to fly the justice to Dallas for a speech and while they were in the air, they hit it off, Crow has said. Crow has since flown Thomas to destinations around the world.

The new details released by the Senate don’t make clear the purpose of the trips, only listing flight dates and locations. They include a May 2017 trip from St. Louis to Kalispell, Montana — the location of Glacier Park International Airport — then from Montana to Dallas two days later. Thomas was scheduled to be in St. Louis at the time for a speech to a local bar association.

In one instance, he flew on June 29, 2021, from the East Coast to San Jose, California, and returned home later that day. In another, the justice took a round-trip flight on March 23, 2019, from Washington, D.C., to Savannah, Georgia.

ProPublica could not immediately find evidence of Thomas making public appearances in Montana, Georgia or California on the dates in question.

Last May, Senate Democrats requested detailed information from Crow about his relationship with Thomas, including an itemized list of all gifts he’d given to Supreme Court justices over the years. In November, Democrats upped the pressure by authorizing a subpoena. That decision met fierce Republican opposition, with GOP senators on the committee walking out of the hearing in protest.

The committee also authorized a subpoena for conservative legal activist Leonard Leo. Leo joined Thomas on at least one trip with Crow and also helped organize a luxury fishing vacation for Justice Samuel Alito, which was paid for by political donors. Leo has said he will not comply with the subpoena.

Last fall, amid public outcry about ethics controversies, the Supreme Court adopted a code of conduct for the first time in its history. The code, however, has no enforcement mechanism.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats attempted to pass a bill that would tighten the court’s ethics rules and create a process for fielding and investigating complaints of potential misconduct. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the legislation “unconstitutional overreach” and led a group of Republican senators who blocked the bill from advancing.

Last week, Thomas acknowledged for the first time that he should have told the public about food and lodging he received from Crow on a pair of free vacations, both of which were first uncovered by ProPublica. Thomas said he “inadvertently omitted” the gifts on previous financial disclosure filings. Thomas has not reported the recent private jet trips from Crow, which many legal experts have described as a violation of the federal financial disclosure law. Thomas’ attorney has maintained that the justice did not need to report the free flights.

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