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Thomas Reports Billionaire-Funded Jet Trips He Said Didn’t Need to Be Disclosed

The justice cited a clarification of disclosure rules made earlier this year.

Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, speaks at a Heritage Foundation luncheon in New York City in 2007.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported that he received several private jet trips from Harlan Crow over the past year, disclosing a type of gift from the conservative billionaire that he previously said didn’t need to be disclosed.

In his 2022 financial disclosure statement released Thursday, the far right justice reported receiving three private jet trips, as well as meals and lodging, from Crow in calendar year 2022. Two of the trips were to Dallas, to speak at conferences held by right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute, and the third was for a vacation at Crow’s luxury estate in upstate New York.

The filing claims that private jet travel was necessary for the first trip to Dallas in February due to an “unexpected ice storm.” The next two trips, in May and July, Thomas claimed to have flown private due to security concerns following the leak of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — though critics have pointed out that Thomas has been flying private for over 25 years.

That Thomas received three private jet trips from Crow within the last year already raises questions over the level of influence that the wealthy hold over the Supreme Court and the ways that high-powered officials can easily enhance their personal wealth and lifestyles. But the disclosure is also telling, as the jet trips mirror gifts that Thomas has gotten from Crow numerous times over the years but has insisted don’t need to be disclosed.

In April, ProPublica released a bombshell report detailing lavish trips that Thomas has received from Crow and never disclosed, including trips on the billionaire’s private jet to places like Indonesia and Crow’s New York property. The reporting set off an avalanche of revelations about questionable ethics adherence by Supreme Court justices, in particular Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Then, earlier this month, ProPublica published the most comprehensive account of Thomas’s trips yet, showing that he’s taken at least 38 destination vacations and 26 private jet flights gifted by three conservative billionaires, including Crow, that he never disclosed. The value of the gifts likely totals in the millions.

When grilled about the failure to disclose the gifts — which ethics experts said was almost definitely illegal — Thomas said that he was “advised” that he didn’t have to disclose “personal hospitality.” This excuse was lambasted by experts and critics, who pointed out that Thomas stopped reporting similarly lavish gifts from Crow when the Los Angeles Times reported about them in 2004.

In the 2022 disclosure, Thomas claims that he is now disclosing the gifts because of updated guidance from the Judicial Conference, which oversees federal courts, which explicitly says that private jet flights and stays at privately owned resorts need to be reported under disclosure rules.

Critics cast doubt on that excuse, and ethics experts have maintained for months that Thomas’s supposed interpretation of the law was incorrect.

“This late-come effort at ‘Clean-up on Aisle Three’ won’t deter us from fully investigating the massive, secret, right-wing billionaire influence in which this Court is enmired,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). The “personal hospitality” standard update was “clarification of what the standard was all along, not new or changed requirements,” Whitehouse said.

Indeed, despite this seeming new understanding of disclosure laws, Thomas didn’t amend previous statements to include travel he’s accepted from Crow and other billionaires in the past, rather saying that he “continues to work with Supreme Court officials and the committee staff for guidance on whether he should further amend his reports from any prior years.”

Thomas did amend a prior report to include a real estate deal in which Crow bought three properties that Thomas co-owned in 2014 for over $133,000. The form says that the real estate deal was “inadvertently” omitted from previous reports.

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