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NYTimes on Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow

When NYTimes reporter Mike McIntire emailed me a couple of weeks ago saying that he wanted to get my thoughts on the friendship between Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas, I told him I didn’t know anything about it — and I don’t, except for what McIntire wrote yesterday. McIntire contacted me because of a post I put up during the convention hotel fight entitled “Who is Harlan Crow and Why Are People Saying All Those Mean Things About Him?”

McIntire did a good job, I think, and it was worth reporting on, because the friendship is unusual. He may have stretched his case a little in trying to find an ethical lapse by noting that Crow entities have had four cases before an appellate court and that AEI, of which Crow is a board member, gave Thomas an award worth $15,000. I call those a stretch because there’s not a business in America, including this one, that hasn’t been before one of the lower appellate courts, and because board members have as little to do with making awards at think tanks like AEI as summer interns. Still, it was a piece that needed to be written, and McIntire seems to have covered all the bases.

It’s the reaction that interests me.

The liberal blogosphere — predictably — has gone berserk. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress thinks Thomas is another Abe Fortas and, like Fortas, ought to resign. Part of the reaction is understandable. If the shoe were on the other foot, if Justice Stepehen Breyer had been caught paling around with George Soros, the right-wing blogosphere would be shouting to high heaven.

But the comparison to Fortas in inapt, which is probably why McIntire didn’t raise it himself. Fortas was known as a greedy lawyer before LBJ appointed him to the Court and before he took a $20,000 gift ($123,000 in today’s dollars) from swindler Harold Wolfson. The appointment as Chief Justice  itself was seen as a payoff: LBJ biographer Robert Caro identified Fortas as the key strategist in stealing the 1948 Senate election for Johnson. (When the Wolfson gift became public, the calls for Fortas’s resgination were led by Sen. Walter Mondale.)

If there is anything that bothers me in the points McIntire raises, it is Ginny Thomas’s political fundraising. Last year I wrote a column entitled “How to Bribe a Politician: Pay the Spouse.” Half of Washington knows this trick. Tom DeLay pioneered it when he started a foundation, told big donors to give money to it, and put his wife and daughter on its payroll.  Others like Newt Gingrich soon followed suit. It may now be seem as standard operating procedure by DC types, but it is a sleazy maneuver, and at the very least public officials should be subject to full disclosure of their entire household income.

If you share my misgivings on that score, it still doesn’t come close to making Clarence Thomas an Abe Fortas. Nor does Harlan Crow’s financing of a museum in Thomas’s hometown. As McIntire makes clear, there is no suggestion that Crow has ever given money directly to Thomas or that he has ever solicited anything from him.

The NYTimes, in fact, has done both men a favor. By bringing their friendship to the light of day and examining it from every possible external angle, it has cleared the air of suspicion. What I would love to learn is the internal story, how the friendship between the son of a sharecropper and the son of one of the nation’s richest men came about. Maybe someday both men will open up to a biographer who can tell that story. That’s the one I would love to read.

13 comments on “NYTimes on Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow

  1. Per the article, unless there’s just some huge coincidence between the pattern of commercial air travels of Justice Thomas and Harlan Crow’s jet, Thomas is still riding on Crow’s jet and not bothering to report it. I view that as a problem. Air not cleared…….

    However, as you note, the museum doesn’t seem to raise any red flags, other than the fact that Thomas the Supreme Court Justice and his tea party wife partying down with Donors is just unseemly. Unfortunately, that behavior goes on on both sides of the Supreme Court, apparently.

  2. If the shoe were on the other foot, if Justice Stepehen Breyer had been caught paling around with George Soros, the right-wing blogosphere would be shouting to high heaven.

    Hardly. More likely we would nod sagely, the left would shout about how shocked they are to discover gambling going on at Rick’s, and we would be back to business as usual the next day.

  3. The Ginni Thomas issue is indeed the most troublesome. In late ’09, she started a nonprofit Tea Party-affiliated lobbying group, Liberty Central, to organize conservative activists across the country. It is all well and good for the spouse of a Supreme Court Justice to have their own lives, their own opinions. It is quite another for them to publicly and actively influence matters that are almost certain to appear before the Court, as Ginni has done on everything from health care reform to immigration. At the least, Justice Thomas should recuse himself when these subjects appear on the Court’s docket.

    Beyond that, I still can’t wrap my brain around the idea of Ginni Thomas, 19 years after the fact, deciding to phone Anita Hill’s office on a Saturday morning at 7:00 AM (knowing she wouldn’t be there) and leaving a voice mail asking Hill to apologize for what she’d supposedly done to poor Clarence at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings way back in 1991. I’m no Doogie Howser, but surely that’s medically certifiable in the real world. Just knowing Anita’s office number suggests some sort of premeditation, meaning Ginni and her husband have spent two decades living out this psychic drama/trauma in private.

  4. “If the shoe were on the other foot, if Justice Stepehen Breyer had been caught paling around with George Soros, the right-wing blogosphere would be shouting to high heaven.”

    except that the MSM wouldn’t even bother reporting such a relationship and it would be up to the right-wing blogosphere to report it. Just look at how the NYT and others went after Palin like a pack a rabid wolves but ignored questionable areas/friendships of Barack Obama.
    The NYT has an agenda and they are far more partisan than the UK Guardian ever is or will be

  5. John Stewart states that unlike FOX, no other media organizations have bias.

    I, for one, am very relieved.

  6. “John Stewart states that unlike FOX, no other media organizations have bias.”

    Actually he didn’t say anything like that.

    Typical FOX fan uninformed, making stuff up, and smearing someone they don’t like.

  7. Clarence Thomas is on of the best Supreme Court Justices corporate money can buy.

    Taking tens of thousands in unreported gifts, not reporting you wife income for a extremist political action committee, staying a luxury resorts with the check pick up by the Kochs.

    Justice Thomas is proving he’s just as good an ethicist as he is a jurist.

  8. Hmmmm, my liquid lunch seems to have influenced my post.

    “larence Thomas is one of the best Supreme Court Justices that corporate money can buy.

    Taking tens of thousands in unreported gifts, not reporting you wife’s income from a extremist political action committee, staying a luxury resorts with the checks picked up by the Koch brothers.

    Justice Thomas is proving he’s just as good an ethicist as he is a jurist.

  9. Oh, please, Wick. Clarence Thomas is far *beyond* Abe Fortas. With Fortas, it was only about personal greed. With Thomas, it’s a mix of that and a political philosophy injurious to, even destructive to, a large chunk of America, all wrapped in a mantle of pious sneering that Fortas never projected.

  10. Justice Thomas sounds like another Conservative PoliticHo to me, lol.
    Of course anyone in this Bush/Cheney crowd seems to be untouchable. What ever happened to ethics, responsibility and accountability? It’s a revolution time…

  11. I will be ever so curious to find out what the Solictor General’s office is doing to investigate the alleged, potential impropriety between Mr. Crowe and Mr. Justice Thomas. Me smells a RAT. Comparisons between Fortas and Thomas are a bit laughable because Thomas appears to do his deeds in the light of day unlike his colleagues.

  12. Umm, Thomas ruled in favor of Ralston-Purina in a case prior to his being nominated. His mentor was John Danforth, an heir to that fortune. Let’s be thorough here. These skeletons may not rattle you but they are there.