Harlan Crow rebuffed a request from the Senate Finance Committee to turn over a list of gifts he gave to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) demanded the information after a ProPublica investigation revealed undisclosed luxury gifts and trips that Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer who has donated millions to conservative causes, gave to Thomas over roughly two decades.
Wyden made the request as part of his questioning of whether Crow fully complied with federal tax laws surrounding the gifts. Crow’s attorneys cited the panel’s lack of authority over the matter, along with issues with separation of powers, in its refusal to comply.
“As an initial matter, however, we have serious concerns about the scope of and authority for this inquiry. As you are aware, the Committee’s powers to investigate are not unlimited. Indeed, the Committee must have a legitimate legislative purpose for any inquiry, and the scope of the inquiry must be reasonably related to that purpose,” Crow’s attorney, Michael Bopp, responded to Wyden on Monday.
More coverage of the Clarence Thomas ethics scandal from The Hill:
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- Lawmakers react to Thomas’s growing list of problems
- Thomas biographer calls reporting on Crow ties ‘despicable’
- Crow covered boarding school tuition for Thomas relative justice raised ‘as a son’
- Roberts struggles to keep Supreme Court out of ethics fight
- Durbin slams Supreme Court’s response to ethics issues as ‘oblivious’
Bopp said the committee’s oversight of federal gift tax laws does not give it authority to essentially conduct a tax audit. He further argued that Wyden was only seeking the records to target Thomas, raising separation of powers issues.
“The timing of and context surrounding the Letter point to a different purpose,” Bopp wrote.
“Given the Letter’s timing and focus, this inquiry appears to be a component of a broader campaign against Justice Thomas and, now, Mr. Crow, rather than an investigation that furthers a valid legislative purpose,” it continued.
Thomas previously defended the gifts as falling into a personal hospitality exception under federal financial disclosure laws. But Democrats have expressed outrage, stepping up their pressure on the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics in the wake of the controversy.
In a statement, Wyden called Crow’s argument “on its face, a joke.”
“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,” Wyden said. “I will send a full response to Mr. Crow’s attorney in the coming days. I’m also going to discuss with my committee colleagues how best to compel answers to the questions I put forward last month, including by using any of the tools at our disposal.”
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, said Democrats’ recent efforts undermine the independence of the court.
“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,” he said.
“Taxpayers have a fundamental right to the certainty that their tax and financial information is protected, remains confidential and will not be used for political purposes.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), sent a similar request to Crow on Tuesday, asking for a full accounting of gifts he gave to Thomas or any other justice. Letters were also sent to entities that own his yacht, jet and property in the Adirondacks.
“We look forward to responding to Chairman Durbin’s letter in due course,” Crow’s office said in a statement.
Updated: 4:02 p.m.