Democratic senators ask attorney general to criminally investigate Clarence Thomas

A pair of Senate Democrats has asked the Justice Department to criminally investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over travel given as gifts and a loan for a luxury car from wealthy donor friends.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on federal courts, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon sent a letter last week asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special counsel to examine whether Thomas violated federal ethics and tax laws when he didn't disclose as income more than $267,000 of a loan that was allegedly forgiven in 2008.

"We do not make this request lightly," the senators wrote. "The evidence assembled thus far plainly suggests that Justice Thomas has committed numerous willful violations of federal ethics and false-statement laws and raises significant questions about whether he and his wealthy benefactors have complied with their federal tax obligations."

A spokesperson for the Supreme Court didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. Justice Department spokesperson Joshua Stueve declined to comment Wednesday morning.

The Senate Finance Committee said last year it reviewed documents from Thomas' friend Anthony Welters and concluded that Thomas didn't pay back principal or interest on a loan Welters provided to Thomas and his wife in 1999 for a luxury motor coach. The senators said at the time that Thomas had made interest payments only on the loan before he stopped payments.

Elliot S. Berke, an attorney for Thomas, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night. He contended in a letter to the Finance Committee this year that Thomas “made payments to Mr. Welters on a regular basis until the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full.”

In their letter to Garland, the two senators also referred to free travel aboard a private yacht and a jet, among other gifts, from billionaire Harlan Crow and other wealthy benefactors that they say were largely omitted from Thomas’ financial disclosure forms. The gifts were first reported by ProPublica last year.

In a statement last month, Berke said that the Judicial Conference had changed a provision allowing for a personal hospitality exemption and that Thomas "has fully complied with the new disclosure requirement.”

Thomas last month acknowledged a pair of trips in 2019 with Crow in his annual financial disclosure report. The same month, the Senate Judiciary Committee released records showing Crow provided Thomas with additional undisclosed trips.

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