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Clarence Thomas Had a Child in Private School. Harlan Crow Paid the Tuition.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

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

 

Series: Friends of the Court

Clarence Thomas’ Beneficial Friendship With a GOP Megadonor

 

In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was “raising him as a son.”

Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

The payments extended beyond that month, according to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school. Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he was a student there, which was about a year, Grimwood told ProPublica.

“Harlan picked up the tab,” said Grimwood, who got to know Crow and the Thomases and had access to school financial information through his work as an administrator.

Before and after his time at Hidden Lake, Martin attended a second boarding school, Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia. “Harlan said he was paying for the tuition at Randolph-Macon Academy as well,” Grimwood said, recalling a conversation he had with Crow during a visit to the billionaire’s Adirondacks estate.

ProPublica interviewed Martin, his former classmates and former staff at both schools. The exact total Crow paid for Martin’s education over the years remains unclear. If he paid for all four years at the two schools, the price tag could have exceeded $150,000, according to public records of tuition rates at the schools.

Thomas did not report the tuition payments from Crow on his annual financial disclosures. Several years earlier, Thomas disclosed a gift of $5,000 for Martin’s education from another friend. It is not clear why he reported that payment but not Crow’s.

The tuition payments add to the picture of how the Republican megadonor has helped fund the lives of Thomas and his family.

“You can’t be having secret financial arrangements,” said Mark W. Bennett, a retired federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton. Bennett said he was friendly with Thomas and declined to comment for the record about the specifics of Thomas’ actions. But he said that when he was on the bench, he wouldn’t let his lawyer friends buy him lunch.

Thomas did not respond to questions. In response to previous ProPublica reporting on gifts of luxury travel, he said that the Crows “are among our dearest friends” and that he understood he didn’t have to disclose the trips.

ProPublica sent Crow a detailed list of questions and his office responded with a statement that did not dispute the facts presented in this story.

“Harlan Crow has long been passionate about the importance of quality education and giving back to those less fortunate, especially at-risk youth,” the statement said. “It’s disappointing that those with partisan political interests would try to turn helping at-risk youth with tuition assistance into something nefarious or political.” The statement added that Crow and his wife have “supported many young Americans” at a “variety of schools, including his alma mater.” Crow went to Randolph-Macon Academy.

Crow did not address a question about how much he paid in total for Martin’s tuition. Asked if Thomas had requested the support for either school, Crow’s office responded, “No.”

Last month, ProPublica reported that Thomas accepted luxury travel from Crow virtually every year for decades, including international superyacht cruises and private jet flights around the world. Crow also paid money to Thomas and his relatives in an undisclosed real estate deal, ProPublica found. After he purchased the house where Thomas’ mother lives, Crow poured tens of thousands of dollars into improving the property. And roughly 15 years ago, Crow donated much of the budget of a political group founded by Thomas’ wife, which paid her a $120,000 salary.

“This is way outside the norm. This is way in excess of anything I’ve seen,” said Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, referring to the cascade of gifts over the years.

Painter said that when he was at the White House, an official who’d taken what Thomas had would have been fired: “This amount of undisclosed gifts? You’d want to get them out of the government.”

A federal law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to publicly report most gifts. Ethics law experts told ProPublica they believed Thomas was required by law to disclose the tuition payments because they appear to be a gift to him.

Justices also must report many gifts to their spouses and dependent children. The law’s definition of dependent child is narrow, however, and likely would not apply to Martin since Thomas was his legal guardian, not his parent. The best case for not disclosing Crow’s tuition payments would be to argue the gifts were to Martin, not Thomas, experts said.

But that argument was far-fetched, experts said, because minor children rarely pay their own tuition. Typically, the legal guardian is responsible for the child’s education.

“The most reasonable interpretation of the statute is that this was a gift to Thomas and thus had to be reported. It’s common sense,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics law expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s all to the financial benefit of Clarence Thomas.”

Martin, now in his 30s, told ProPublica he was not aware that Crow paid his tuition. But he defended Thomas and Crow, saying he believed there was no ulterior motive behind the real estate magnate’s largesse over the decades. “I think his intentions behind everything is just a friend and just a good person,” Martin said.

Crow has long been an influential figure in pro-business conservative politics. He has given millions to efforts to move the law and the judiciary to the right and serves on the boards of think tanks that publish scholarship advancing conservative legal theories.

Crow has denied trying to influence the justice but has said he extended hospitality to him just as he has to other dear friends. From the start, their relationship has intertwined expensive gifts and conservative politics. In a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News, Crow recounted how he first met Thomas. In 1996, the justice was scheduled to give a speech in Dallas for an anti-regulation think tank. Crow offered to fly him there on his private jet. “During that flight, we found out we were kind of simpatico,” the billionaire said.

The following year, the Thomases began to discuss taking custody of Martin. His father, Thomas’ nephew, had been imprisoned in connection with a drug case. Thomas has written that Martin’s situation held deep resonance for him because his own father was absent and his grandparents had taken him in “under very similar circumstances.”

Thomas had an adult son from a previous marriage, but he and wife, Ginni, didn’t have children of their own. They pitched Martin’s parents on taking the boy in.

“Thomas explained that the boy would have the best of everything — his own room, a private school education, lots of extracurricular activities,” journalists Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher reported in their biography of Thomas.

Thomas gained legal custody of Martin and became his legal guardian around January 1998, according to court records.

Martin, who had been living in Georgia with his mother and siblings, moved to Virginia, where he lived with the justice from the ages of 6 to 19, he said.

Living with the Thomases came with an unusual perk: lavish travel with Crow and his family. Martin told ProPublica that he and Thomas vacationed with the Crows “at least once a year” throughout his childhood.

That included visits to Camp Topridge, Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks, and two cruises on Crow’s superyacht, Martin said. On a trip in the Caribbean, Martin recalled riding jet skis off the side of the billionaire’s yacht.

Roughly 20 years ago, Martin, Thomas and the Crows went on a cruise on the yacht in Russia and the Baltics, according to Martin and two other people familiar with the trip. The group toured St. Petersburg in a rented helicopter and visited the Yusupov Palace, the site of Rasputin’s murder, said one of the people. They were joined by Chris DeMuth, then the president of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. (Thomas’ trips with Crow to the Baltics and the Caribbean have not previously been reported.)

Thomas reconfigured his life to balance the demands of raising a child with serving on the high court. He began going to the Supreme Court before 6 a.m. so he could leave in time to pick Martin up after class and help him with his homework. By 2001, the justice had moved Martin to private school out of frustration with the Fairfax County public school system’s lax schedule, The American Lawyer magazine reported.

For high school, Thomas sent Martin to Randolph-Macon Academy, a military boarding school 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., where he was in the class of 2010. The school, which sits on a 135-acre campus in the Shenandoah Valley, charged between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. Martin played football and basketball, and the justice sometimes visited for games.

Randolph-Macon was also Crow’s alma mater. Thomas and Crow visited the campus in April 2007 for the dedication of an imposing bronze sculpture of the Air Force Honor Guard, according to the school magazine. Crow donated the piece to Randolph-Macon, where it is a short walk from Crow Hall, a classroom building named after the Dallas billionaire’s family.

Martin sometimes chafed at the strictures of military school, according to people at Randolph-Macon at the time, and he spent his junior year at Hidden Lake Academy, a therapeutic boarding school in Georgia. Hidden Lake boasted one teacher for every 10 students and activities ranging from horseback riding to canoeing. Those services came at an added cost. At the time, a year of tuition was roughly $73,000, plus fees.

The July 2009 bank statement from Hidden Lake was filed in a bankruptcy case for the school, which later went under. The document shows that Crow Holdings LLC wired $6,200 to the school that month, the exact cost of the month’s tuition. The wire is marked “Mark Martin” in the ledger.

Crow’s office said in its statement that Crow’s funding of students’ tuition has “always been paid solely from personal funds, sometimes held at and paid through the family business.”

Grimwood, the administrator at Hidden Lake, told ProPublica that Crow wired the school money once a month to pay Martin’s tuition fees. Grimwood had multiple roles on the campus, including overseeing an affiliated wilderness program. He said he was speaking about the payments because he felt the public should know about outside financial support for Supreme Court justices. Martin returned to Randolph-Macon his senior year.

Thomas has long been one of the less wealthy members of the Supreme Court. Still, when Martin was in high school, he and Ginni Thomas had income that put them comfortably in the top echelon of Americans.

In 2006 for example, the Thomases brought in more than $500,000 in income. The following year, they made more than $850,000 from Clarence Thomas’ salary from the court, Ginni Thomas’ pay from the Heritage Foundation and book payments for the justice’s memoir.

It appears that at some point in Martin’s childhood, Thomas was paying for private school himself. Martin told ProPublica that Thomas sold his Corvette — “his most prized car” — to pay for a year of tuition, although he didn’t remember when that occurred.

In 2002, a friend of Thomas’ from the RV community who owned a Florida pest control company, Earl Dixon, offered Thomas $5,000 to help defray the costs of Martin’s education. Thomas’ disclosure of that earlier gift, several experts said, could be viewed as evidence that the justice himself understood he was required to report tuition aid from friends.

“At first, Thomas was worried about the propriety of the donation,” Thomas biographers Merida and Fletcher recounted. “He agreed to accept it if the contribution was deposited directly into a special trust for Mark.” In his annual filing, Thomas reported the money as an “education gift to Mark Martin.”

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‘Absolutely Blockbuster Evidence’: Experts Stunned Over Trump ‘Espionage Act’ Bombshell That Pressures ‘DOJ to Indict’

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Legal experts wasted no time Wednesday responding to an exclusive CNN report revealing federal prosecutors have obtained audio evidence of Donald Trump in a 2021 meeting at his Bedminster golf course admitting he had held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, admitting he wanted to share the document, and admitting he knew he legally could not because he did not have the authority to declassify it post-presidency.

“War plans are among the most highly classified documents. Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict,” writes NYU Law professor of Law Ryan Goodman, a former U.S. Dept. of Defense Special Counsel.

“Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case,” Goodman continues, calling the news a “bombshell.”

“It is not simply an ‘obstruction’ case,” says Goodman. “There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove.”

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“Audio recording is a meeting with several people who don’t have security clearances. If Trump discussed content of document it is even worse – and raises its own criminal exposure,” Goodman also writes.

On-air, CNN reported in the audio recording a piece of paper could be heard ratting in the wind.

Calling it “a critical find,” MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin says the alleged audio recording of Trump “reveals another new, significant fact: In summer 2021, Trump had at least one classified document with him at Bedminster. Trump lawyers told DOJ in December 2022 that a search of Bedminster by private investigators yielded no such records.”

Rubin sums it all up: “That DOJ & the Special Counsel have apparently spoken to witnesses from Milley to Fitton and back suggests they have evidence regarding Trump’s motives and state of mind in addition to his actual taped statements.”

Rubin is not the only one focused on the Bedminster aspect.

Pete Strzok, the former FBI Counterintelligence Deputy Assistant Director, pointed to a tweet he wrote last year that reads: “Better check Bedminster… On May 6, NARA [the National Archives] emails Trump to say material is missing and may be at MAL [Mar-a-Lago].”

“On May 9, Trump gets on a private plane from Palm Beach to Bedminster. On video, several boxes are seen loaded onto the plane,” Strzok also tweeted.

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On Wednesday he wrote: “AND the meeting in question appears to have been at Bedminster. As I’ve said for a while, better check Bedminster.”

“Appears Trump – in his own voice,” Strzok adds, “- knew the procedures for declassifying information – knew he hadn’t done it – may have disclosed it to someone not authorized to receive it Huge. Filling in those 18 USC 793 elements of the crime.”

18 U.S. Code § 793 is the federal statute for “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.”

Other experts also weighed in.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed white collar criminal defense attorney Robert Denault, “Hugely significant piece of evidence.”

Attorney George Conway appeared to agree, citing the late, iconic Washington Post executive editor: “Fair to say Ben Bradlee would have called this a ‘holy-shit story.'”

Conway, a former Republican and devout never-Trumper did not hold back: “It would actually be perfect for the most colossally nihilistic moron the world has ever seen to go to prison for doing something so brazenly illegal, yet at the same time so unimaginably pointless and stupid.”

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Richard Painter, the former Bush 43 chief White House ethics lawyer points out that Trump “lied about it,” and called that a “felony.”

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti calls it “absolutely blockbuster evidence.”

“It proves that Trump *knew* he kept highly classified documents after he left office, that he shared the classified info with people who didn’t have clearance, and ‘suggests … he was aware of limitations’ on his ability to declassify.”

Image via Shutterstock

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‘I Don’t Want Reality’: Senate Republican Explodes Over Origin of Concept of Race – Calls to Teach ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Instead

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U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) exploded in a committee hearing on child care on Wednesday after he introduced a book designed to help children understand race, and declared he opposes socialism and wants schools to teach about Jesus Christ instead.

Sen. Mullin, a former U.S. Congressman who once told a House Democrat to “shut up,” began by explaining how expensive it is for private companies to set up child care – the topic of the hearing – but quickly transformed the hearing into one on race, socialism, and religion.

He wove a web that started with his concerns over “federalizing” education, which he declared is socialism. He then attacked the committee chairman, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who heads the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), for being a “self-declared democratic socialist.” That led to his claim that the book he opposes, “Our Skin: A First Conversation on Race,” would be taught nationwide.

Sen. Mullin said he opposes the book because it teaches young children that the concept of race, especially the white race, was created by white people to place themselves above other people with different skin – which has been documented in numerous studies, reports, articles, and books.

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Senator Mullin, who supports a federal vigilante “Don’t Say Gay” bill,  tried to get members of the panel to support his desire for schools to teach about Jesus instead.

“I have a book here in here in front of me called ‘Our Skin,'” Mullin told the committee, “and I’m going to read exactly what this book says. You guys might find it interesting. ‘A long time ago, way before you were born, a group of white people made up an idea called race. They sorted people by skin color and said that white people were better, smarter, prettier, and they deserved more than everybody else.’ This would be taught if we socialized our pre-K system, this would be taught.”

“How about we teach Jesus Loves Me?” Mullin demanded. “How about how about this? And teaching ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children.’ The lyrics go, ‘Red and yellow, black and white. They’re all precious in our sight.’ Now, which one would you think would be better? I’ll ask everybody on the panel, which is better to teach? This, that is a story that was made up to teach kids, three year olds who have no idea what race is.”

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“So I ask everybody on the panel, which one is better to teach? This,” referring to the book he had brought, “or the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ lyrics? Ma’am. I’ll start on here.”

“I think it’s important to teach that all children are seen and valued for who they are,” one panelist told Sen. Mullin. He was not pleased.

Another panelist who appeared to agree with Sen. Mullin on teaching Jesus responded, “It is important that we teach Jesus. Jesus is what we teach. But the reality is –” she said before being interrupted by Mullin.

“I don’t want reality,” Mullin proclaimed, which evoked immediate laughter.

“Got it on tape,” one person announced.

“I misspoke,” Mullin claimed.

Watch portions of Mullin’s remarks below or at this link.

 

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DeSantis Kicks Off Presidential Campaign Tour With Claim Teachers Are ‘Forcing’ Students to Pick Pronouns

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Governor Ron DeSantis kicked off his official presidential campaign tour on Tuesday, traveling to Iowa after announcing last week he was launching a White House run. On Wednesday, the Republican bragged to GOP voters that in Florida he recently signed a bill into law banning teachers from forcing children to pick pronouns, insisting it is happening in other states.

“It is wrong for a teacher to tell a student that they may have been born in the wrong body, or that their gender is a choice,” DeSantis announced.

“We don’t allow this in the state of Florida, and we actually just signed legislation protecting students from having teachers force them to pick pronouns, which they are doing in some parts of this country, at [a] very, very young age. We’re not competing in the ‘pronoun sweepstakes.’ We’re going to have school just like school’s been, from time in memoriam [sic], we’re not going to do all this other stuff,” he declared.

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While DeSantis is insistent that teachers are forcing very young students to pick pronouns, NCRM found no news reports supporting that claim.

We did find several news reports of teachers suing for not wanting to use a child’s preferred pronoun, which are issues for the courts.

We did find one report of a teacher who allegedly insisted on calling a 9-year old girl who identifies as a girl a boy, and the parents are suing.

News12 on Long Island, New York in March reported, “the lawyer representing the girl’s family…says the student was bullied and had suicidal feelings.”

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‘The teacher had some kind of agenda to have these students have alternate sexual preferences or gender identities they may or may not have had,'” the attorney said.

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In April, Colorado’s KRDO reported, “During the last Colorado Springs School District 11’s board meeting, officials tabled a controversial pronoun policy that would prevent educators from asking students their preferred pronouns. While the policy isn’t in effect, some teachers are concerned about how it would hinder them inside the classroom.”

Watch DeSantis below or at this link.

 

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