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Billionaire Harlan Crow Bought Property From Clarence Thomas. The Justice Didn’t Disclose the Deal

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

In 2014, one of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow’s companies purchased a string of properties on a quiet residential street in Savannah, Georgia. It wasn’t a marquee acquisition for the real estate magnate, just an old single-story home and two vacant lots down the road. What made it noteworthy were the people on the other side of the deal: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his relatives.

The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners — Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas’ late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice’s elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.

The disclosure form Thomas filed for that year also had a space to report the identity of the buyer in any private transaction, such as a real estate deal. That space is blank.

“He needed to report his interest in the sale,” said Virginia Canter, a former government ethics lawyer now at the watchdog group CREW. “Given the role Crow has played in subsidizing the lifestyle of Thomas and his wife, you have to wonder if this was an effort to put cash in their pockets.”

Thomas did not respond to detailed questions for this story.

In a statement, Crow said he purchased Thomas’ mother’s house, where Thomas spent part of his childhood, to preserve it for posterity. “My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.”

Crow’s statement did not directly address why he also bought two vacant lots from Thomas down the street. But he wrote that “the other lots were later sold to a vetted builder who was committed to improving the quality of the neighborhood and preserving its historical integrity.”

ProPublica also asked Crow about the additions on Thomas’ mother’s house, like the new carport. “Improvements were also made to the Thomas property to preserve its long-term viability and accessibility to the public,” Crow said.

Ethics law experts said Crow’s intentions had no bearing on Thomas’ legal obligation to disclose the sale.

The justice’s failure to report the transaction suggests “Thomas was hiding a financial relationship with Crow,” said Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis who reviewed years of Thomas’ disclosure filings.

There are a handful of carve-outs in the disclosure law. For example, if someone sells “property used solely as a personal residence of the reporting individual or the individual’s spouse,” they don’t need to report it. Experts said the exemptions clearly did not apply to Thomas’ sale.

The revelation of a direct financial transaction between Thomas and Crow casts their relationship in a new light. ProPublica reported last week that Thomas has accepted luxury travel from Crow virtually every year for decades, including private jet flights, international cruises on the businessman’s superyacht and regular stays at his private resort in the Adirondacks. Crow has long been influential in conservative politics and has spent millions on efforts to shape the law and the judiciary. The story prompted outcry and calls for investigations from Democratic lawmakers.

In response to that reporting, both Thomas and Crow released statements downplaying the significance of the gifts. Thomas also maintained that he wasn’t required to disclose the trips.

“Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends,” Thomas wrote. “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips.” Crow told ProPublica that his gifts to Thomas were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends.”

It’s unclear if Crow paid fair market value for the Thomas properties. Crow also bought several other properties on the street and paid significantly less than his deal with the Thomases. One example: In 2013, he bought a pair of properties on the same block — a vacant lot and a small house — for a total of $40,000.

In his statement, Crow said his company purchased the properties “at market rate based on many factors including the size, quality, and livability of the dwellings.”

He did not respond to requests to provide documentation or details of how he arrived at the price.

Thomas was born in the coastal hamlet of Pin Point, outside Savannah. He later moved to the city, where he spent part of his childhood in his grandfather’s home on East 32nd Street.

“It had hardwood floors, handsome furniture, and an indoor bathroom, and we knew better than to touch anything,” Thomas wrote of the house in his memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son.”

He inherited his stake in that house and two other properties on the block following the death of his grandfather in 1983, according to records on file at the Chatham County courthouse. He shared ownership with his brother and his mother, Leola Williams. In the late 1980s, when Thomas was an official in the George H.W. Bush administration, he listed the addresses of the three properties in a disclosure filing. He reported that he had a one-third interest in them.

Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1991. By the early 2000s, he had stopped listing specific addresses of property he owned in his disclosures. But he continued to report holding a one-third interest in what he described as “rental property at ## 1, 2, & 3” in Savannah. He valued his stake in the properties at $15,000 or less.

Two of the houses were torn down around 2010, according to property records and a footnote in Thomas’ annual disclosure archived by Free Law Project.

In 2014, the Thomas family sold the vacant lots and the remaining East 32nd Street house to one of Crow’s companies. The justice signed the paperwork personally. His signature was notarized by an administrator at the Supreme Court, ​​Perry Thompson, who did not respond to a request for comment. (The deed was signed on the 23rd anniversary of Thomas’ Oct. 15 confirmation to the Supreme Court. Crow has a Senate roll call sheet from the confirmation vote in his private library.)

Thomas’ financial disclosure for that year is detailed, listing everything from a “stained glass medallion” he received from Yale to a life insurance policy. But he failed to report his sale to Crow.

Crow purchased the properties through a recently formed Texas company called Savannah Historic Developments LLC. The company shares an address in Dallas with Crow Holdings, the centerpiece of his real estate empire. Its formation documents were signed by Crow Holdings’ general counsel. Business records filed with the Texas secretary of state say Savannah Historic Developments is managed by a Delaware LLC, HRC Family Branch GP, an umbrella company that also covers other Crow assets like his private jet. The Delaware company’s CEO is Harlan Crow.

A Crow Holdings company soon began paying the roughly $1,500 in annual property taxes on Thomas’ mother’s house, according to county tax records. The taxes had previously been paid by Clarence and Ginni Thomas.

Crow still owns Thomas’ mother’s home, which the now-94-year-old continued to live in through at least 2020, according to public records and social media. Two neighbors told ProPublica she still lives there. Crow did not respond to questions about whether he has charged her rent. Soon after Crow purchased the house, an award-winning local architecture firm received permits to begin $36,000 of improvements.

Crow’s purchases seem to have played a role in transforming the block. The billionaire eventually sold most of the other properties he bought to new owners who built upscale modern homes, including the two vacant lots he purchased from Thomas.

Crow also bought the house immediately next door to Thomas’ mother, which was owned by somebody else and had been known for parties and noise, according to property records and W. John Mitchell, former president of a nearby neighborhood association. Soon the house was torn down. “It was an eyesore,” Mitchell said. “One day miraculously all of them were put out of there and they scraped it off the earth.”

“The surrounding properties had fallen into disrepair and needed to be demolished for health and safety reasons,” Crow said in his statement. He added that his company built one new house on the block “and made it available to a local police officer.”

Today, the block is composed of a dwindling number of longtime elderly homeowners and a growing population of young newcomers. The vacant lots that the Thomas family once owned have been replaced by pristine two-story homes. An artisanal coffee shop and a Mediterranean bistro are within walking distance. Down the street, a multicolored pride flag blows in the wind.

Image: Public domain photo by Preston Keres/USDA

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Bartiromo Blasts Biden Administration for Encouraging Americans to Register to Vote

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Fox News Business anchor Maria Bartiromo is attacking the Biden administration’s efforts to encourage American citizens to register to vote. In interviews with several Republicans on Friday she claimed the federal government outreach only helps elect Democrats.

“Okay, so what are you all doing about it on the Republican side?” Bartiromo asked House Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise Friday morning. “As the government, Biden’s government, Biden’s administration seems to be using a whole on government approach to get people to vote Democrat?”

Sticking to GOP talking points, Scalise suggested it is “the weaponization of government.”

Bartiromo had cited an article on the right-wing website The Federalist, “9 Ways The Feds Are Using ‘Bidenbucks’ To Rig The 2024 Election,” that details ways the administration is helping or encouraging Americans to register to vote. There is no such thing as “Bidenbucks.”

READ MORE: Republicans Kill Bill to Protect IVF After Claiming They Fully Support It

The article points to several instances where the administration is encouraging voter registration, like at colleges, or by outreach to Native Americans, and to new Americans.

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within DHS, announced an update to its Policy Manual in August, which included provisions directing agency employees to ‘increase awareness and expand access to voter registration during naturalization ceremonies,’ in which eligible immigrants officially become U.S. citizens.”

It also claims, “Studies have indicated a voting preference among legal immigrants for Democrat candidates over Republican ones.”

The Federalist reports other federal agencies are encouraging voter registration. The include: The Treasury Dept., the Department of the Interior, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Bartiromo also pummeled U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL): “What are the Republicans doing?”

Waltz replied the House has passed legislation to “defund” efforts to encourage American citizens to vote.

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Injustice’: Experts Condemn Supreme Court’s ‘Fundamentally Corrupt’ Trump Decision

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Republicans Kill Bill to Protect IVF After Claiming They Fully Support It

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After the Alabama Supreme Court ruled two weeks ago that frozen embryos are “children,” causing several medical facilities to pause their in-vitro fertilization services, Republicans rushed to get ahead of the growing national outrage.

Many Republicans insisted that although they oppose abortion and support the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, they did not think it would have effects this far-reaching. And they insisted, repeatedly, on-camera, they absolutely support in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

“Once you pass a law or accept the view that life begins at conception, IVF & some forms of birth control are at risk, along with abortion. It was never ‘just’ about abortion & women pay the price for all of it,” wrote professor of law and MSNBC legal contributor Joyce Vance on February 23. Three days later she added, “It’s pretty simple. If life begins at conception, IVF is off the table. If you make an exception for IVF then we’re just having a conversation about who you’re willing to make exceptions for.”

Republicans insisted they were willing to make an exception for IVF.

RELATED: Nikki Haley: Frozen Embryos Are ‘Babies’

For years, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who has given birth to two children with the help of IVF, has tried to pass legislation to protect IVF.

Republicans each time have killed the bills.

Her latest attempt was Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) on Wednesday spoke against the bill.

Sen. Duckworth stamped out Hyde-Smith’s claims, saying, “She said at one point the bill would allow for chimeras — human-animal hybrids — it does nothing of the sort. All the bill says if you want to seek reproductive technology you can …”

Sen. Hyde-Smith then killed the bill by formally objecting to Duckworth’s bill on Wednesday, which the Illinois Democrat tried to pass via unanimous consent.

It was the second time in two years Sen. Hyde-Smith has killed that bill.

They’re hanging this on Hyde-Smith. But the entire senate gop has now united to block a federal law to keep ivf legal,” observed Talking Points Memo publisher Josh Marshall. “They’re all coming out saying that frozen embryos are equal to living children.”

READ MORE: Democrats Discredit GOP Claims on IVF as Republicans Try to Regain Ground After Fallout

Also on Wednesday, the lone House Republican supporting legislation to protect IVF withdrew her sponsorship of that bill.

The Biden campaign on Thursday blasted Republicans for claiming to support IVF then killing the bill that would have protected it.

Watch the videos above or at this link.

 

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‘Injustice’: Experts Condemn Supreme Court’s ‘Fundamentally Corrupt’ Trump Decision

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Legal and political experts were stunned by the Supreme Court announcing Wednesday it will take up Donald Trump’s claim of presidential immunity, despite there being no contradiction in the lower courts. Compounding experts’ surprise and concern over granting certiorari was the length of time it took to announce the decision, and that they will not hear arguments until April 22.

“The Supreme Court heard and decided Bush v. Gore in THREE DAYS. THAT was expediting a case of national importance,” noted Tristan Snell, the former New York State prosecutor who led the successful investigation and $25 million prosecution of Donald Trump’s Trump University. “The Supreme Court apparently now thinks expediting means THREE MONTHS. Clearest evidence yet that SCOTUS is corrupt and broken.”

Professor of law and MSNBC legal analyst Andrew Weissmann, the former FBI General Counsel who served at DOJ for decades, asked: “Why on god’s green earth did the S Ct [Supreme Court] not take the case earlier when the Special Counsel sought review directly from the District Court? They have really played into Trump’s hands.”

He adds: “The Supreme Court is going straight for the capillaries: an issue the DC criminal case does not raise, namely the outer bounds of a presidential immunity doctrine.”

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Weissman Thursday morning noted that the Supreme Court’s actions essentially make Trump “de facto immune.”

Foreign policy, national security, and political affairs analyst and author David Rothkopf replied, “I think you have answered your own question. The only reason to handle this the way they did is to, at best, play Trump’s delay game and, at worst, set the stage for one of the most indefensible, corrupt decisions (or outcomes) in US history.”

“Those who did not understand the urgency of stopping the threat posed by Trump, MAGA and the dark money right, those who did not actively hold them accountable with every available institutional tool, may have been the undoing of American democracy…no matter their intentions,” he noted.

“Let’s not beat around the bush, decision by the Supreme Court to hear the Trump immunity case is outrageous and, at its heart, fundamentally corrupt,” Rothkopf also wrote. “The Appeals Court decision was bullet proof and there is no case Trump has any sort of immunity. The decision not to hear it until late April makes further significant trial delays likely. They are deliberately delaying the trial without any reasonable legal reason to do so. This is a political decision and, in my estimation, an ugly one.”

“If a special counsel had been appointed early in 2021,” Rothkopf also wrote, “if Trump obstruction of justice had be prosecuted, if Trump had not been granted special treatment on his theft of classified documents, if the classified documents case had been brought in DC as it should have been, Trump might very well be in jail now.”

READ MORE: Comer Announces Public Hearing After Hunter Biden Closed Door Testimony

He also pointed to this monologue from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, calling it “correct.”

University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University Laurence Tribe blasted “the SCOTUS decision to slow-walk Trump’s outrageous immunity claim — the claim everyone knows would be rejected 9-0 by any self-respecting court.”

Noting the Supreme Court could have taken up the case back in December, Tribe told CNN, “There’s nothing new under the sun” in this case. “It doesn’t make any sense to stretch this out this way.”

“We can be sure that they want to use this case to settle a whole broad range of issues, contrary to their supposed practice of deciding no more than you must decide. In fact, the Chief Justice once famously said, if we don’t have to decide something, that means we have to avoid deciding it. He’s obviously violated that mandate here and the struggle within the court results in injustice for the nation.”

Tribe also slammed the Court for choosing to announce it will decide “the broadest possible question.” He suggests they could stretch it out even more, by taking the case, hearing it, then sending it back to the lower courts again.

Daily Beast columnist and “recovering attorney” Wajahat Ali observed: “A thoroughly corrupt Supreme Court with right-wing justices bought out by conservative billionaires and beholden to Christian nationalism should not be expected to side with justice, the rule of law, or democracy. Elections matter.”

CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic on Wednesday said, The fact that they delayed this order … suggests that they certainly did not embrace the urgency that Special Counsel Jack Smith tried to impose upon them, way back in December.”

“Former President Trump’s effort to run the clock has a partner in the Supreme Court at this point,” she notes.

Watch the videos above or at this link.

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