A lawyer for billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow has agreed to speak with staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Crow’s relationship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to a letter obtained by NBC News.
Michael D. Bopp, Crow’s attorney, said Monday in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that while “concerns” persist about lawmakers’ authority to investigate the matter, the committee plays an “important role in formulating legislation on our federal court system,” and he “would welcome a discussion with your staff.”
Bopp’s letter on Monday comes after he again refused to give Senate Judiciary Democrats information about Thomas’ relationship with the billionaire businessman last month. In a May letter to Durbin, Bopp wrote that he believes the committee does not have the authority to “investigate Mr. Crow’s personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas” and that Congress “does not have the constitutional power to impose rules and standards of ethics in the Supreme Court.”
Durbin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., quickly dismissed Bopp’s claims in a follow up letter dated May 26, alleging that the lawyer gave an inadequate response to his request.
“His explanation was based on a flawed assessment by the Congressional Article I oversight authority; a restricted reading of the constitutional power of Congress to legislate in matters of governmental ethics; and a totally misplaced view of the separation of powers, a doctrine that is implicated when Congress requests information from coordinated branches of government, not private individuals,” Durbin and Whitehouse wrote. “He also repeatedly conflated personal hospitality with the use of corporate property, highlighting one of the key issues the Committee seeks to address through legislation.”
Bopp’s refusal to comply with the committee mirrored what he told the Senate Finance Committee last month, arguing that the panel lacks a legislative purpose in its request for a list of gifts Crow had given Thomas.
Thomas has come under scrutiny over allegations reported by ProPublica that he failed to properly disclose trips and gifts paid for by Crow, the sale of the estates of Thomas and his relatives to Crow and the tuition that Crow paid for one of the judge’s relatives.
Thomas said after ProPublic’s reports that he had been told the trips and gifts were “personal hospitality from close personal friends” and that he was under the impression they did not have to be disclosed in the disclosures.
Durbin and other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked Crow to provide an itemized list of gifts worth more than $415 that he gave to Thomas or any other judge or their relatives. They also asked Crow to provide a complete list of real estate transactions, transportation, lodging, and admission to private clubs that he could have provided.
On Tuesday morning, NBC News contacted a Senate Judiciary Committee aide for comment that Bopp’s latest letter “did not provide a meaningful response” to the panel’s request and that Durbin and Whitehouse will soon release a statement. in response, calling the letter not “a bona fide offer.”
“Committee staff have already been in contact with Mr. Crow’s attorney for weeks, and the letter spans six pages blatantly and incorrectly asserting that Congress has no authority to legislate or oversee this space, and one sentence offers to keep in touch. ”said the aide said.
“That is not a meaningful response to legitimate information requests from the Committee, nor is it a one-time offer to meet with staff,” the aide added.
The Supreme Court and Thomas did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.