Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose 2014 real estate deal with GOP megadonor, ProPublica report finds

By Devan Cole, CNN

Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose a 2014 real estate deal he made with a GOP megadonor, according to a ProPublica report published Thursday.

The deal involved the sale of three properties in Savannah, Georgia, that were owned by Thomas and his relatives to the megadonor, Harlan Crow, according to ProPublica, which said that tax and property records showed that Crow made the purchases through one of his companies for a total of $133,363.

But Thomas “never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties,” the report said, noting that ethics law experts told the outlet that his failure to report it “appears to be a violation of the law.”

“The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice,” ProPublica said in its report.

Thursday’s report comes on the heels of a bombshell investigation published last week by ProPublica that detailed Thomas and his wife’s luxury travel with the Crows, which included trips on the donor’s yacht and private jet. The justice also did not disclose that travel, and he later defended the decision not to, saying in a rare statement last week that he was advised at the time that he did not have to report it.

CNN has reached out for comment from the Supreme Court and Thomas.

Crow said in a statement to CNN that he purchased the properties to “one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice.”

He added that he made the purchases at “market rate based on many factors including the size, quality, and livability of the dwellings.”

Although two of the properties were later sold by Crow, according to his statement, the real estate magnate still owns the property on which Thomas’ elderly mother lives. Citing county tax records, ProPublica said one of Crow’s companies pays the “roughly $1,500 in annual property taxes on Thomas’ mother’s house,” which had previously been paid by the justice and his wife, Ginni.

Experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ failure to disclose the 2014 deal raised more questions about his relationship with Crow.

“He needed to report his interest in the sale,” Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer who now works for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told the outlet. “Given the role Crow has played in subsidizing the lifestyle of Thomas and his wife, you have to wonder if this was an effort to put cash in their pockets.”

The report will likely lead to fresh calls for an investigation into the relationship. Following last week’s report, congressional Democrats called for a probe into the matter and for a stronger ethics code for the justices, and some federal judges also spoke out.

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it plans to hold a hearing “on the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards,” and at least one watchdog group has urged lawmakers to call Thomas as a witness in the upcoming hearing.

This story has been updated with additional details Thursday.

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CNN’s Tierney Sneed and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.