A friend of Clarence Thomas says there is well-documented evidence that the Supreme Court justice did not transgress judicial ethics rules by not disclosing vacation trips with his friend Harlan Crow, a billionaire businessman and GOP donor.
A ProPublica investigation published in April found that Thomas’ close friendship with real estate developer Crow allowed him to accompany the Texas billionaire on luxury vacations on his private jet and yacht, as well as free stays on Crow’s vast vacation property, among other perks.
Mark Paoletta, who has vigorously defended Thomas in the weeks after he came under scrutiny from Senate Democrats who said he was in violation of court ethics laws for those trips, said in a series of tweets that Thomas has been in compliance with governing ethics rules and that there is a paper trail to back that up.
“The Judicial Conference is the authoritative body for Judiciary under the law and the Judicial Conference ruling in 2012 concludes Justice Thomas acted properly in not disclosing trips,” Paoletta, an attorney who served in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations and who is a close friend of the Thomas family, stated Wednesday.
“Justice Thomas complied with ethics law when he didn’t disclose trips under personal hospitality exception,” Paoletta tweeted. “In 2011/12, Judicial Conference specifically reviewed complaints Thomas hadn’t properly disclosed trips and concluded Thomas acted properly in not disclosing.”
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“After complaints filed in Jan 2011 on Thomas not disclosing wife’s salary, which was inadvertent, there were complaints submitted based on June 2011 NYT [New York Times] story on Thomas traveling on Harlan Crow plane & boat & staying at Crow’s summer home, Topridge,” continued Paoletta.
“In September 29, 2011 letter signed by Rep. Slaughter and 20 Members to Judicial Conference, Members cited [a New York Times] story that Justice Thomas had violated law by not disclosing his trips on Crow’s plane and boat on his forms,” Paoletta wrote.
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“Judicial Conference wrote back to Congress on October 14, 2011, and said this letter was referred to Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure for review,” he continued.
Paoletta said that on April 30, 2012, the Judicial Conference replied to Congress that they reviewed allegations in a Sept. 29 letter and “concluded that nothing has been presented to support a determination that Justice Thomas . . willfully or improperly failed to disclose information concerning travel reimbursements.”
“Thus, Judicial Conference specifically reviewed allegations in 2011/12 that Justice Thomas had violated law by not disclosing his trips on Crow’s plane and boat pursuant to personal hospitality exception and Judicial Conference AGREED Thomas was correct in not disclosing,” Paoletta said.
Paoletta says that a May 15 letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., from the Judicial Conference “summarized findings that ‘nothing had been presented to support a determination that … Justice Thomas willfully or improperly failed to disclose information concerning travel reimbursements.’
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Paoletta noted that under the Ethics in Government Act, the Judicial Conference is designated as the body to “issue interpretive guidance, review reports, and determine compliance for the judiciary.”
In a subsequent tweet, Paoletta questioned whether the authors of the April Pro Publica article even checked with the Judicial Conference to ask if they ruled on allegations and concluded Thomas acted properly in not disclosing trips, since their documentation is public.
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“You cite left wing ‘ethics experts,’ whose views are just partisan opinions, but I don’t see anything in your original article that you checked with Judicial Conference,” Paoletta commented.