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Senate Dems seek more info from Harlan Crow after Clarence Thomas reports

The Judiciary Committee appears to be actually investigating the Supreme Court’s ethical swamp.


The Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t subpoenaing Supreme Court justices to learn more about the court’s ethical failings. But committee Democrats appear to be doing the next best thing: seeking information directly from Harlan Crow, the GOP billionaire whose years of lavish gifts to Clarence Thomas weren’t disclosed by the justice.

To be sure, it’s a letter to Crow, not a subpoena. But it’s a start.

That letter, dated Monday, asks the Republican megadonor for itemized lists of gifts, real estate transactions, and other detailed information related to his dealings with any of the Supreme Court justices or their family members. Committee Democrats, led by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted in their letter to Crow that recent investigative reporting has “identified multiple instances in which you or entities you own or control have made payments, purchased real estate, or provided gifts, travel, or other items of value to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and members of his family.”

Monday's letter comes after Chief Justice John Roberts declined Durbin's invitation to testify at a Senate hearing on Supreme Court ethics last week, and Thomas wasn't even invited.

The letter gives Crow a May 22 deadline, raising the question of what Durbin will do if the billionaire doesn’t comply. A natural next step would be a subpoena, which the committee chair has said he couldn't get in the absence of his colleague Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has been out of Washington for health reasons. However, NBC News reported Tuesday that she is returning to the Senate this week. Her signature is on Monday’s letter alongside her Democratic committee colleagues.

Even with Feinstein back, it’s unclear how the next phase of a showdown would play out. And we may have reason to expect a showdown, given that Crow on Monday attempted to bat away an inquiry from the Senate Finance Committee.

But for now, the next move in the Judiciary Committee, it seems, is up to Crow.

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