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Now-released forms reveal more trips gifted to Justice Clarence Thomas by Harlan Crow

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas released his 2022 financial disclosure form today. He reported three trips on a private jet owned by billionaire Harlan Crow, a Thomas friend and GOP megadonor. Thomas' form and another from Justice Samuel Alito were filed three months after the seven other justices filed their forms and after Thomas and Alito were granted extensions. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is here in the studio with more. Hey, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: There have been a slew of reports in recent months by ProPublica and other news outlets about Justice Thomas' relationship with Harlan Crow and other billionaire conservatives who have given him all sorts of benefits like luxury travel, financing a loan for a high-end RV. What did we learn today from these documents that we didn't know before?

TOTENBERG: This document is really pretty interesting because it provides justifications for some of the private jet travel. And although the form only covers 2022, it sort of, through the back door, seeks to justify other benefits that Thomas received from Crow previously.

The front door, as it were, is the 2022 form that discloses the three jet trips. One, Thomas reports, cames (ph) - came after he had gone to Dallas to be a keynote speaker at an event sponsored by a conservative group, and he flew back on Crow's jet, quote, "due to an unexpected ice storm." The talk was rescheduled for May, and this time, he took a round trip on Crow's private jet because, quote, "there were increased security risks" following the leak of the court's abortion opinion. And he also reported that he'd taken Crow's jet to and from Crow's estate in the Adirondacks for a vacation where meals and entertainment were also provided.

Gabe Roth of the watchdog group Fix the Court sees the 22 - 2022 filing as a good first step, but...

GABE ROTH: I mean, I think that this is only sort of a half answer that we get today from Justice Thomas. We know some of the private trips that he took in 2022, but he does not go back and list any of the trips that he took via private planes, via yacht, via helicopter, that should have been reported in previous years.

SHAPIRO: Nina, is there any indication in this report that Thomas intends to do that - go back and amend his previous forms?

TOTENBERG: I think there's every indication he will not do that. Indeed, he uses the 2022 form to clarify his failure to report Harlan Crow's purchase of a home that Thomas owned in Savannah, Ga. - a home where his mother still lives. That purchase was in 2014 and was not disclosed then. Thomas said he didn't realize it had to be disclosed as a real estate transaction because he'd made improvements to the home over the years, so the sale was a, quote, "capital loss." I'm not sure, really, I understand what has - that has to do with reporting it as a real estate transaction, but that's what he says.

SHAPIRO: So how does he justify reporting the Crow plane trips and luxury vacation in 2022 but not any before that?

TOTENBERG: Thomas maintains that until this year, when the judicial conference clarified the rule on personal hospitality, the guidance provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts was that judges did not have to disclose private transportation or luxury trips extended by personal friends or, as Thomas put it in the filing today, and here I'm quoting, "filer is not aware of anything in the judicial conference regulation issued for more than 30 years or in any advice provided by the judicial conference to judges. That is, it is inconsistent with this," meaning his, "position." Translation - this was my understanding, and there's no evidence I was wrong.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.