Court Battles

Senate Democrat asks GOP megadonor Crow for list of gifts to Thomas

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Monday asked GOP megadonor Harlan Crow to provide a list of flights and other gifts he reportedly gave to Justice Clarence Thomas over the past two decades.

Wyden questioned whether Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer whose friendship with Thomas has been thrust into the spotlight following a ProPublica investigation, fully complied with federal tax laws surrounding gifts.

“The secrecy surrounding your dealings with Justice Thomas is simply unacceptable,” Wyden wrote in a letter. “The American public deserves a full accounting of the full of extent of your largesse towards Justice Thomas, including whether these gifts complied with all relevant federal tax and ethics laws.”

Wyden asked for a response by May 8.

“We look forward to responding to Chairman Wyden’s letter in due course,” Crow’s office said in a statement.

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that Crow paid for Thomas to join various vacations stretching back years, including trips on Crow’s private jet and 162-foot yacht. 

The report was met with outrage from Democratic lawmakers, who have called for stronger ethics rules at the high court. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has asked Chief Justice Roberts to testify at a hearing early next month but has indicated he has not received a response.

The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) generally requires taxpayers to file a Form 709 when they make a gift in excess of the annual gift tax exclusion amount, which is $17,000 in 2023 but is indexed to inflation.

Wyden, whose committee provides oversight to the IRS, asked Crow to send a list of every flight Thomas took on his private jet, every time Thomas was a guest on Crow’s yacht and a detailed accounting of Crow’s federal gift tax returns.

“While there are exemptions from the gift tax, such as for certain payments for medical expenses or tuition; for certain transfers to tax-exempt organizations; and for certain transfers to spouses, none of these exemptions appear to apply to any gifts you made to Justice Thomas,” Wyden wrote.

His letter also scrutinizes a subsequent ProPublica report that found Thomas did not disclose a 2014 real estate deal with Crow, in which his company bought a series of Savannah, Ga., properties from Thomas and his family for $133,363. Crow reportedly later had contractors complete tens of thousands of dollars of work on the property.

“According to recent reporting, Justice Thomas’s mother has been living in the property rent-free for almost a decade,” Wyden wrote. “The full factual background has not been made public, but it is possible that you have had gift tax filing obligations and gift tax liability as a consequence of this living arrangement.”

Updated at 4:12 p.m.

Tags Clarence Thomas Clarence Thomas Harlan Crow harlan crow Ron Wyden Ron Wyden Supreme Court Supreme Court ethics

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