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For more than 20 years now, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been accepting luxury trips from billionaire and Republican super donor Harlan Crow, without reporting them in his financial disclosures, a news investigation from ProPublica found. On Friday Thomas referred to Crow as a “dear friend” and said that he didn’t have to report hospitality from Crow.

ProPublica reports that Thomas and his wife have flown on Crow’s private jet, cruised on his yacht and spent about a week every summer at his private resort in the Adirondack mountains. The investigative nonprofit news outlet reports that Thomas’ 2019 trip island hopping in Indonesia with a chartered plane and a superyacht—owned by Crow—would have cost Thomas more than half a million dollars if he’d paid for it. As a public servant, Thomas has an annual salary of $285,000.

Legal experts are debating the ethics of Thomas omitting the vacations from his financial disclosures, but it remains unclear whether Thomas has violated any laws.

Extravagant vacations

ProPublica looked into flight records and internal documents from Crow’s office and interviewed dozens of witnesses. The report found that Thomas has flown on Crow’s private jet on many occasions and has accompanied Crow to Bohemian Grove, an exclusive all-male retreat in California, as well as to Crow’s ranch in Texas.

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” Thomas said in a statement Friday.

A real estate developer from Dallas, Crow is the CEO of his own company, Crow Holdings. For years, Crow has contributed millions of dollars to conservative lobbying and other ideological efforts. Crow told ProPublica that he had occasionally extended “hospitality” to the Thomases over the years.

In his most recent annual disclosure, Thomas checked the box indicating that he had no gifts to report. “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 added Friday.

As the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, Thomas has outlived many justices who he worked with at the beginning of his tenure.

The ethical dilemma

Supreme Court justices are generally required to report gifts worth more than $415, classified as “anything of value.” Exceptions for staying or dining with friends exist, but transportation—such as flights on Crow’s private jet—are still supposed to be reported.

Following the Watergate scandal, a 1978 law mandated that government officials, including congressmen, federal judges and Supreme Court justices, disclose their finances in an annual report. However, new guidelines launched on March 14 clarify which things must be reported, and justices are now required to disclose when they receive any free gifts and lodging at commercial properties, or whenever the hospitality is reimbursed by an outside third party.

“It is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” Thomas said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said Thursday that the Senate Judiciary Committee “will act” on the report.

“The highest court in the land shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards. Today’s ProPublica report reveals that Justice Thomas has for years accepted luxury travel on private yachts and jets and a litany of other gifts that he failed to disclose,” Durbin said. “Today’s report demonstrates, yet again, that Supreme Court Justices must be held to an enforceable code of conduct.”

On Friday, 24 Democrats from both chambers of Congress sent Chief Justice John Roberts a letter calling for a “swift, thorough, independent and transparent investigation” to determine if Thomas’ vacations broke any laws or ethics rules.

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