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Justice Clarence Thomas defends ‘family trips’ with GOP donor

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday defended the luxury vacations that he accepted from a Republican megadonor for more than two decades and kept secret from the public. His brief statement came in response to a ProPublica report that revealed the lavish trips that Thomas took with Harlan Crow, a Texas real estate billionaire.

“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas said in the statement. “I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines.”

Thomas said he and his wife have joined Crow and his wife “on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.”

He also pointed to recent changes that tightened the regulations governing judges’ annual financial disclosures. “It is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”

The new regulations, quietly put into place March 14 by a Judicial Conference committee, now require Supreme Court justices and all federal judges to disclose complimentary trips, plane rides and other gifts they receive. They must report their stays at commercial property, such as hotels, and their travel using private planes. Lodging or entertainment at a friend’s private residence are still exempt from the new guidelines.

Lawmakers expressed outrage at Thomas’ failure to report the gifted trips, which could potentially violate ethics laws. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called for Thomas’s impeachment. “This is beyond party or partisanship. This degree of corruption is shocking — almost cartoonish,” she wrote.

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) urged Republicans to pass a bill Democrats introduced last Congress that would require the establishment of a judicial code of conduct for judges and justices of U.S. courts.

“Why did Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas keep these ultra luxury gifts from a GOP donor secret? Because Justice Thomas knew it was wrong to accept these secret gifts,” Lieu wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called for an “independent investigation,” stating that “it’s the Chief Justice’s job to make sure that occurs.”

The ProPublica report detailed two decades of Thomas’ travel on a private jet and yacht owned by Crow to luxury destinations such as the California resort Bohemian Grove, Crow’s ranch in Texas, Crow’s private lakeside resort in the Adirondacks and a vacation in Indonesia.

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