Opinion: Why isn’t the House Judiciary Committee looking into red flags about Clarence Thomas?
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @[email protected]. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
On Monday, the GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee — chaired by Donald Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan — is set to hold a field hearing in New York City called “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan.” A statement bills the hearing as an examination of how, the Judiciary Committee says, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s policies have “led to an increase in violent crime and a dangerous community for New York City residents.”
In response, Bragg’s office slammed Jordan’s hearing as “a political stunt” while noting that data released by the New York Police Department shows crime is down in Manhattan with respect to murders, burglaries, robberies and more through April 2, compared with the same period last year.
In reality, this Jordan-led hearing isn’t about stopping crime but about defending Trump — who was recently charged by a Manhattan grand jury with 34 felonies. Trump pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges stemming from an investigation into a hush-money payment to an adult film actress. The former president also is facing criminal probes in other jurisdictions over efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Bragg sued Jordan and his committee last week in federal court, accusing the Judiciary Committee chairman of a “transparent campaign to intimidate and attack” his office for its investigation and prosecution of Trump by making demands for confidential documents and testimony.
While Jordan and his committee appear focused on discrediting the investigation into Trump, why aren’t they looking into two recent bombshell reports by ProPublica that raised red flags about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ financial relationship with GOP megadonor Harlan Crow? After all, the House Judiciary Committee’s website explains that it has jurisdiction over “matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts” – for which the revelations concerning Thomas fit perfectly.
First, we learned in early April that Crow had provided Thomas and his wife, Ginni, for decades with luxurious vacations including on the donor’s yacht and private jet to faraway places such as Indonesia and New Zealand. That information was never revealed to the public. (In a rare public statement, Thomas responded he was advised at the time that he did not have to report the trips. The justice said the guidelines for reporting personal hospitality have changed recently. “And, it is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future,” he said.)
Then on Thursday, ProPublica reported that Thomas failed to disclose a 2014 real estate deal involving the sale of three properties he and his family owned in Savannah, Georgia, to that same GOP megadonor, Crow. One of Crow’s companies made the purchases for $133,363, according to ProPublica. A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires Supreme Court justices and other officials to make public the details of most real estate sales over $1,000.
As ProPublica detailed, the federal disclosure form Thomas filed for that year included a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, but Thomas left that space blank. Four ethics law experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ failure to report it appears to be a violation of the law. (Thomas did not respond to questions from ProPublica on its report; CNN reached out to the Supreme Court and Thomas for comment.)
The House Judiciary Committee has long addressed issues such as those surrounding Thomas. In fact, the committee is where investigations and the impeachment of federal judges often commence.
One recent example came in 2010 with Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr., whom the committee investigated and recommended for impeachment.
The committee’s Task Force on Judicial Impeachment said evidence showed Porteous “intentionally made material false statements and representations under penalty of perjury, engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme, solicited and accepted unlawful gifts, and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.” The Senate later found Porteous guilty of four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench.
Yet the Judiciary Committee has neither released statements nor tweets raising alarm bells about Thomas. Instead, its Twitter feed is filled with repeated tweets whining that C-SPAN won’t cover Monday’s New York field hearing. Worse, the committee retweeted GOP Rep. Mary Miller’s tweet defending Thomas as being attacked “because he is a man of deep faith, who loves our country and believes in our Constitution.”
Jordan’s use of his committee to assist Trump should surprise no one. The House January 6 committee’s report called the Ohio Republican “a significant player in President Trump’s efforts” to overturn the election. The report detailed the lawmaker’s efforts to assist Trump including on “January 2, 2021, Representative Jordan led a conference call in which he, President Trump, and other Members of Congress discussed strategies for delaying the January 6th joint session.” As a result, the January 6 committee subpoenaed Jordan to testify — but he refused to cooperate.
In contrast with the House panel, the Senate Judiciary Committee — headed by Democrats — announced in the wake of the reporting on Thomas that it plans to hold a hearing “on the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” Beyond that, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia sent a letter Friday calling for a referral of Thomas to the US attorney general over “potential violations of the Ethics in Government Act 1978.”
The House Judiciary Committee’s website notes, “The Committee on the Judiciary has been called the lawyer for the House of Representatives.” Under Jordan that description needs to be updated to state that the Committee on the Judiciary is now “the lawyer for Donald J. Trump.” And the worst part is that the taxpayers are the ones paying for Jordan’s work on Trump’s behalf.
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