In its obsession to smear Justice Clarence Thomas, the left-wing billionaire-funded website ProPublica is expected to publish another dishonest hit piece to justify its previous dishonest hit pieces on Justice Thomas’ vacations with his friends. But this new hit job does nothing to change the fact that Thomas acted consistent with the law and the governing legal body’s 2012 ruling that Thomas acted properly.
In its first attack piece, ProPublica falsely claimed Thomas violated the law because he did not report various vacations he took with his longtime friend Harlan Crow. To support this claim, ProPublica cited left-wing “judicial ethics” experts who are funded by the same left-wing billionaires funding ProPublica.
What ProPublica failed to mention in its story is that the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is comprised of federal judges and is charged by law with implementing and enforcing the ethics law for the federal judiciary, had previously considered these exact allegations and ruled in 2012 that Thomas had not failed to disclose any required information regarding travel reimbursements.
It’s not surprising that the Judicial Conference ruled that way as there is solid support that this is the advice they had been giving to judges all along. For example, Judge Ray Randolph produced contemporaneous notes of advice he received in 2006 from the conference staff that he was not required to report a flight on a private plane nor a stay at a lodge in Alaska based on the “personal hospitality” definition outlined in the Ethics in Government Act, and as interpreted by the Judicial Conference.
And that’s why Thomas did not report his trips with Crow and his other friends. The law has recognized that counting up the number of times you stay overnight at a friend’s home, have dinner with them, or vacation with them is not what the law was designed to do.
It’s a journalistic sin that ProPublica failed to mention the Judicial Conference 2012 ruling, as this finding from the governing body blows a hole in ProPublica’s smear that Thomas violated any law. But rather than own up to this egregious omission, ProPublica has been determined to stick to its false narrative and has spent several months looking for ways to attack this 2012 ruling.
Last week, ProPublica sent an email to Justice Thomas, which I obtained, challenging a statement that Thomas’ attorney made in a letter this past August, which accurately stated: “The Judicial Conference issued a letter confirming that Justice Thomas had not improperly failed to disclose information concerning his travel.” According to ProPublica’s email, “a judge who was on the committee at the time told us ‘that couldn’t be further from the truth’ because the committee did nothing.”
What is this judge whom ProPublica quotes talking about? The Judicial Conference’s April 30, 2012, letter states: “This matter has been reviewed by the Committee on Financial Disclosure of the Judicial Conference of the United States. It has concluded that nothing has been presented to support a determination … that Justice Thomas willfully or improperly failed to disclose information concerning travel reimbursements.”
ProPublica’s readers are asked to believe a judge who apparently will rewrite history over Justice Thomas’ attorney who accurately reflected exactly what the Judicial Conference determined.
ProPublica further claims in its email to Thomas that the Judicial Conference did not investigate these allegations against Justice Thomas and that some judges were troubled by how this matter was handled. But why would they need to do any investigation? If this travel was covered by the personal hospitality provision, it does not need to be reported. This is the exact advice they gave Judge Randolph and no doubt many other judges. No investigation was needed.
These allegations, which were first made against Thomas by 20 Democrat members of Congress in 2011, were reviewed by the chairman of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure, Judge Joseph McKinley Jr., a Clinton appointee. McKinley also requested that the Committee’s Subcommittee on Compliance review this matter, and then the matter was discussed by the full committee. Based on his review and the committee discussion, Judge McKinley determined that Justice Thomas had not failed to disclose information regarding his travel. But ProPublica seems to be alleging that these judges are corrupt or abdicated their responsibilities. That’s quite a smear.
With respect to Thomas’ right to rely on this Judicial Conference 2012 ruling that he did not have to disclose these trips, it does not matter at all what the Judicial Conference did internally, whether they investigated it or not. They made a ruling, and Thomas and other judges are entitled to rely on it. Otherwise, what is the point of the Judicial Conference giving advice or making rulings?
In March 2023, the Judicial Conference changed its interpretation of the definition of the term “personal hospitality” to require the reporting of certain trips, and consistent with that change, Thomas reported trips he took on his form earlier this year. And consistent with these same news reports, this is further evidence that the Judicial Conference’s old interpretation of this term did not require such reporting.
Moreover, I would not trust anything ProPublica writes and who they are quoting. In a previous piece, I called out as false ProPublica’s claim, based on its “sources,” that Justice Thomas had been a passenger on his friend Tony Novelly’s yacht in the Bahamas. Mr. Novelly’s lawyer confirmed that ProPublica’s reporting was false in an Oct. 31, 2023 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
ProPublica should correct this falsehood, but don’t hold your breath.
ProPublica also smeared Thomas for not disclosing his attendance at a University of Nebraska football game with his friends. The ticket price was $65 per seat for the seat Thomas used, well below the reporting threshold of $415. I have learned that ProPublica reporters were specifically told the price of the ticket by the Nebraska Athletic Office, but they deliberately did not put this fact in their piece. This would have destroyed their claim that Thomas violated the law by not disclosing these tickets. They are dishonest journalists.
ProPublica’s forthcoming story will be just another dishonest hit job. They hate Thomas and want to undermine the American people’s trust in the court, so they spend all their time inventing baseless attacks. Despite the endless attacks, Justice Thomas continues to do his job, laying out a jurisprudence that is faithful to the Constitution. Thank God for the strength of Thomas never to bow to these attacks.
The author was on some of the trips discussed in this article.