Justice Clarence Thomas Acknowledges He Should Have Disclosed Free Trips From Billionaire Donor

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged for the first time in a new financial disclosure filing that he should have publicly reported two free vacations he received from billionaire Harlan Crow.

The pair of 2019 trips, one to Indonesia and the other to the Bohemian Grove, an all-male retreat in northern California, were first revealed by ProPublica. Last year, Thomas argued that he did not need to disclose such gifts. “Justice Thomas’s critics allege that he failed to report gifts from wealthy friends,” his lawyer previously said in a statement issued on the justice’s behalf. “Untrue.”

In the new filing released Friday, however, Thomas amended his financial disclosure for 2019, writing that he “inadvertently omitted” the trips on his previous reports.

Last year, ProPublica documented an array of undisclosed luxury vacations and other gifts Thomas has received over the years from several billionaires, including Crow. ProPublica revealed Crow had treated Thomas to numerous private jet flights and international yacht cruises, covered private school tuition for Thomas’ relative, and paid Thomas money in an undisclosed 2014 real estate deal.

Legal ethics experts said that Thomas appeared to have violated the law by failing to disclose the trips and gifts.

The Thomas revelations helped plunge the Supreme Court into its biggest ethical crisis in the modern era. Justice Samuel Alito also failed to disclose a luxury fishing trip that was paid for by wealthy political donors, one of whom had cases before the court. In recent weeks, Alito has faced criticism for politicized flags that flew at two of his homes. The public’s approval of the court has plummeted in the last few years, polls show.

In response, the court last year adopted a code of conduct for the first time in its history. The code, however, has no enforcement mechanism.

This is not the first time that Thomas has responded to public controversy about his disclosure practices by amending an old form. The forms are required by a federal law passed after Watergate that says justices must annually report income, assets and most gifts. At least twice before, Thomas has similarly defended his failure to make required disclosures as an unintentional error or a misunderstanding of the rules.

Last summer, Thomas amended his 2014 disclosure to include the real estate deal with Crow after ProPublica reported on the transaction. At the time, he wrote that he “inadvertently failed to realize” that the deal needed to be publicly reported and said he “continues to work” with judiciary staff to determine “whether he should further amend his reports from any prior years.”

Thomas engaged an outside lawyer last year to review his past filings. The new filing does not make clear whether that review is finished. The justice and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement last year, Thomas’ attorney, Elliot Berke, said that “after reviewing Justice Thomas’s records, I am confident there has been no willful ethics transgression.”

A committee of judges of the Judicial Conference, the principal policymaking body for federal courts, also said last year it had launched a review of the allegations against Thomas. By law, if there is “reasonable cause” to believe a justice intentionally omitted information from a report, the conference is supposed to refer the matter to the attorney general. Such a referral would be unprecedented. A judiciary spokesperson told ProPublica on Friday there is no update on that review.

Even after the new amendments, there are many gifts Thomas received that he has still not disclosed.

As ProPublica previously reported, in 2019, Thomas flew to Indonesia on Crow’s private jet for an extended island cruise on Crow’s superyacht. If Thomas had chartered the plane and the yacht himself, it could have cost more than half a million dollars. Seven ethics-law experts said that Thomas appeared to have violated federal law by failing to disclose the free travel.

Thomas did not mention the flight to Indonesia or the yacht trip in his new filing. However, he disclosed a previously unknown detail about the trip: that Crow and his wife paid for Thomas’ stay at a hotel in Bali. Thomas acknowledged that he should have reported that.

ProPublica also reported that Thomas had taken at least six undisclosed trips with Crow to the Bohemian Grove. Thomas’ amendments to his reports include only one of those trips. Members typically must pay thousands of dollars to bring a guest to the retreat.

In his new filing, Thomas disclosed receiving one gift last year: photo albums that he valued at $2,000 from Terrence and Barbara Giroux. Terrence Giroux was the executive director of the Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships to low-income students. Thomas is an honorary board member of the nonprofit.

Thomas reported no free trips last year, which would make 2023 an anomaly. Thomas received undisclosed vacations from Crow and other wealthy benefactors virtually every year for more than two decades.

In the disclosure forms released Friday, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the only other Supreme Court justice to report receiving a gift in 2023. Jackson said she received $12,500 worth of artwork for her chambers at the court, as well as a gift from Beyoncé of four concert tickets, which she valued at $3,711.84.

Alito, who has said he did not need to disclose his fishing trip, received a 90-day extension for filing his disclosure form for last year.

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