WASHINGTON – Harlan Crow, the Dallas real estate mogul in the midst of a Supreme Court ethics dispute, has declined a Senate request for a full account of gifts, payments and vacations he provided to Judge Clarence Thomas and his family.
In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee obtained Tuesday by The hillCrow’s attorneys denied the request, saying the panel doesn’t have the authority to request that information.
“As you know, the Committee’s investigative powers are not unlimited,” Crow’s attorney, Michael Bopp, wrote in the letter. “Indeed, the Committee must have a legitimate legislative purpose for any investigation, and the scope of the investigation must be reasonably related to that purpose.”
The committee has the authority to oversee the IRS and the federal gift tax law, but that, Bopp said, doesn’t justify such interference in an individual’s financial affairs.
“This inquiry appears to be one component of a larger campaign against Judge Thomas and, now, Mr. Crow, rather than an inquiry furthering a valid legislative purpose,” Crow’s attorney told Senators.
Senator John Cornyn, a Finance Committee member, shrugged off allegations of Thomas’s unethical behavior during the lavish travels Crow provided for two decades, among other revelations of financial backing. These include buying the house where Thomas’s mother lives and paying $150,000 or more in tuition for a great-grandchild Thomas was raising.
“Clarence Thomas has been the target of a 32-year campaign to destroy him personally,” he said The Dallas Morning News last week.
Senator Ted Cruz, another Republican senator from Texas, also parried the charges against Thomas accusing Democrats of having waged a long campaign to discredit conservative justice.
“Their desperate attempts to paint Judge Thomas as immoral and even corrupt are baseless and downright hypocritical,” Cruz told donors Tuesday in a fundraising email.
In his initial letter requesting full disclosure of the donations, Finance Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he wanted to ensure Crow complied with all relevant tax laws.
“The secrecy surrounding your dealings with Judge Thomas is simply unacceptable,” Wyden wrote to Crow on April 24, two-and-a-half weeks after ProPublica first documented gifts Crow provided that Thomas never had. revealed. “The American public deserves a full account of the extent of your generosity to Judge Thomas.”
Wyden gave Crow until Monday to respond, and that’s when the attorney’s letter is dated.
“If he fails to comply, I will look into using other tools the committee has to obtain this critical information,” Wyden said May 4 after ProPublica reported on the tuition Crow paid for Thomas’ great-grandson.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a similar request, asking Crow for detailed lists of all gifts, payments, real estate transactions, transportation or lodging, and private club taxes that he provided to Thomas or one of Thomas’s relatives.
The Judiciary Commission said the inquiry was part of its “ongoing efforts to craft legislation that strengthens ethical rules and standards that apply to Supreme Court justices.”
Cornyn and Cruz both sit on that committee, which is controlled by Democrats.
In response to last week’s revelation about tuition for Thomas’ great-grandson — which, like luxury vacations, Thomas hadn’t reported on the ethics revelations — Cornyn said “there are many generous people who are willing to provide scholarships I study poor children every day in America, and I think that’s commendable.