Democratic senators call on justice department to investigate Clarence Thomas

By The Guardian (World News) | Created at 2024-07-10 13:55:28 | Updated at 2024-07-21 19:05:36 1 week ago


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The US attorney general should appoint a special counsel to investigate potential criminal violations of federal ethics and tax laws by the supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, two Democratic senators have said.

Thomas has been at the center of an ongoing scandal over undeclared gifts, many from the rightwing mega-donor Harlan Crow, which have included flights, vacations, school fees and a property purchase.

Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a member of the judiciary committee, and Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate finance committee, released a letter to the attorney general, Merrick Garland, on Monday citing “evidence of repeated and willful omissions of gifts and income from Justice Thomas’s financial disclosure reports” which, they said, were required by the Ethics in Government Act.

They said the scale of Thomas’s potential ethics violations and the “willful pattern of disregard for ethics laws” more than met the level generally required by the Department of Justice to investigate.

The senators also cited “the serious possibility of additional tax fraud and false statement violations by Justice Thomas and his associates”.

Samuel Alito, another arch-conservative on a court dominated 6-3 by the right after Donald Trump made three appointments during his presidential term, has also been the subject of reporting about ethics questions. He and Thomas have refused to recuse themselves from cases in which their independence might be questioned.

ProPublica won a Pulitzer prize for its reporting on gifts to justices, prominently including Thomas.

Garland is unlikely to grant Whitehouse and Wyden’s request, given the political sensitivities involved with opening a criminal investigation into a sitting supreme court justice. But as the court has recently handed huge victories to the right – removing the federal right to abortion, declaring presidents immune from prosecution for certain acts and eviscerating the administrative state – the Democratic senators appear to be aiming to keep attention on a scandal.

The court’s chief justice, John Roberts, has refused to testify in Congress about the ethics concerns. Roberts did oversee the introduction of a new code of conduct but it has no means of enforcement other than by the justices themselves.

Thomas and the court did not immediately comment about the senators’ request for a special counsel, nor did the Department of Justice.

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In their letter, the senators said: “We do not make this request lightly. The evidence … 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.

“Presented with opportunities to resolve questions about his conduct, Justice Thomas has maintained a suspicious silence.

“No government official should be above the law.”

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