Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) rebuked GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow, who was recently exposed for years of showering Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in luxury trips and financial benefits, for refusing to answer questions about the gifting and whether it complied with federal tax law.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee chairman said that he was “disappointed but unsurprised” by Crow’s refusal to offer up receipts.
“Mr. Crow is relying on the same baseless arguments that failed Donald Trump in his attempt to stonewall Congressional oversight,” Wyden wrote in a statement. “The assertion that the Finance Committee lacks a legislative basis for an investigation of the abuse of gift taxes by the wealthy is simply preposterous.”
He was responding to a letter from Crow’s attorney Michael D. Bopp, sent late Monday night, arguing that Congress had neither the legislative purpose nor authority to ask for the information.
“We of course respect the authority of the Senate Finance Committee to consider and report tax-related legislation,” he wrote. “But that is evidently not the goal of this attempt to tarnish the reputation of a sitting Supreme Court Justice and his friend of many years, Mr. Crow.”
Crow is a Texan real estate magnate who’s donated millions to conservative causes. He’s attracted national attention since early April after ProPublica released its bombshell investigation into his friendship with the justice. Thomas had received decades of luxury international trips on Crow’s mega-yacht and private jet, as well as access to exclusive retreats and the billionaire’s East Texas ranch, they found.
Since that report was released, there have been several follow-ups, including one just last week revealing that Crow paid for Thomas’s grandnephew to attend private school and another showing that Crow bought the home that Thomas’ mother still lives in.
In his April letter, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman asked Crow for evidence that the gifts he provided the justice complied with federal tax law.
“Harlan Crow has been subsidizing an extravagant lifestyle that Justice Thomas and his family could not otherwise afford,” the senator wrote. “This is a foul breach of ethics standards.”
Senate Democrats have been trying to find ways to push for Supreme Court ethics reforms in the weeks since ProPublica dropped its first report. On April 20, for example, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify in a committee hearing on ethics reform, but the justice rebuffed his invitation. On Monday, Durbin and the rest of the Judiciary Committee Democrats sent Crow a similar letter, requesting a detailed accounting of gifts he’s given to Thomas and other Supreme Court justices.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who’s pushed for ethics reform of the high court for years, reiterated his stance on Twitter last week. “When does the stench get bad enough that SCOTUS stops the cover-up and ends the mischief?” he wrote. “This is on the Chief Justice to solve, plain and simple. Mom’s rent, family tuition, vacation and gifts—and secret? Any other government employee would be fired.”
In his Tuesday statement, Wyden noted that he would send a full response to Bopp in the coming days, as well as brainstorm ways to compel answers to his inquiry with the rest of the Senate panel.
“The bottom line is that nobody can expect to get away with waving off Finance Committee oversight, no matter how wealthy or well-connected they may be,” he wrote.
But a few Senate Republicans have already vowed to throw a wrench in those plans. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) released his own statement Tuesday morning refusing to support any subpoenas issued against SCOTUS.
“I believe in the integrity and honesty of the Court and that of all nine Justices,” he wrote. “I will oppose any effort to issue a subpoena in the Finance Committee or to use other tools at the committee’s disposal to further efforts to undermine the independence of the Supreme Court and its individual Justices.”
Read Bopp’s full letter below: