Harlan Crow basically just told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he and Justice Clarence Thomas, and perhaps the Supreme Court itself, are above the law. A subpoena to Crow could test that idea.
The arrogant and misguided claims came from the Texas billionaire’s attorney in a letter dated Monday that was in response to a letter from the committee seeking more information on the Republican megadonor’s previously unreported largesse to Thomas, which has been the subject of controversy ever since ProPublica began to detail it in its bombshell investigative reporting.
Crow’s lawyer, Michael D. Bopp, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in the letter: “After careful consideration, we do not believe the Committee has the authority to investigate Mr. Crow’s personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas.” The framing displays the same purposeful naivety that Crow did in an exclusive interview published in The Atlantic on Monday in which he feigned bewilderment that a Supreme Court justice wasn’t allowed to have friends.
In both instances, that’s not exactly what this is all about. Rather, the committee’s letter asked Crow for itemized lists of gifts, real estate transactions and other information related to his dealings with any of the Supreme Court justices or their family members. (Crow similarly stiffed the Senate Finance Committee, which also has been looking into the matter.)
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Crow’s attorney also missed the mark in claiming that Congress can’t regulate Supreme Court operations. Congress provides funding for the court and and controls its size, for example. As for the claim that the committee doesn’t have a “valid legislative purpose” for the inquiry, that’s, at the very least, not a judgment that should be left up to the party that stands to benefit from that argument. Crow isn’t a judge, even if a particularly powerful one in Thomas might feel indebted to him.
As I noted two weeks ago when the committee sent its letter to Crow: It’s not a subpoena, but it’s a start.
With Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., now back in Washington and resuming work on the Judiciary Committee after a health-related absence, the committee — which now has a theoretically working majority — should take the next step and subpoena Crow.
Failure to do so would amount to agreement with the position staked out in his attorney’s letter.