Democrats on Friday called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases related to Jan. 6 after it was revealed that his wife had texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urging him to challenge Donald Trump's election loss.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that in light of reports of the text messages traded between Ginni Thomas and Meadows after the 2020 election, "Justice Thomas' conduct on the Supreme Court looks increasingly corrupt."
"Justice Thomas participated in cases related to Donald Trump's efforts to rig and then overturn the 2020 election, while his wife was pushing to do the same," Wyden said. He added that Justice Thomas should recuse himself from “any case related to the January 6th investigation, and should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election.” A recusal that broad would be unprecedented, particularly in light of the large number of ongoing criminal and civil cases related to the riot.
In some of the text messages — copies of which were obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News — Ginni Thomas urged Meadows and Trump to follow the lead of lawyer Sidney Powell, who made numerous wild and unfounded claims of voter fraud.
In one such message, Ginni Thomas urged Meadows to “release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down,” the Post reported.
The text messages were part of a trove of documents and messages that Meadows turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol before he stopped cooperating with the investigation.
The Post and CBS obtained copies of the messages, which were reviewed by each news outlet and by five people who have seen the committee’s documents. A source familiar with the materials confirmed the veracity of the messages quoted in the Post report to NBC News.
Wyden and other Democrats said Justice Thomas had already crossed a line by not recusing himself from a case involving the Jan. 6 committee's attempts to get ahold of Trump White House records from the National Archives earlier this year.
Meadows submitted a legal filing in the case urging the high court to block the committee from getting the records.
In his amicus brief, Meadows noted that he'd already handed over some records to the committee, but the National Archives and Records Administration likely had more.
“Many of the records that Amicus created, reviewed, or received during his tenure as White House Chief of Staff are now Presidential records in the custody of Respondent NARA. They are likely included among the documents directly at issue in this case, and in any event, the outcome of this case will bear directly on whether and to what extent those documents are produced to the Select Committee," his filing said.
The Supreme Court allowed the records to be released to the committee in an 8-1 vote. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenter, which Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., pointed out online Friday.
"Justice Thomas was the sole member of the Supreme Court who would have allowed records from Trump, Meadows, et al to be withheld from House Jan 6 Committee. He did not explain his reasoning. We need answers," Kaine tweeted.
Justice Thomas is known for his frequent dissents and has on dozens of occasions been the lone dissent in 8-1 cases.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said "Ginni Thomas can do whatever crazy things she wants. But Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas cannot rule on a case that would disclose the crazy things Ginni Thomas was doing. That was a clear conflict of interest."
Republican leaders did not express any such concerns. Asked if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters, “No, I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he’s made every other time. It’s his decision based upon law. If you spent any time studying the Supreme Court justice, he’s one who studies correctly and I mean, from all the way through. If he sees it’s not upholding the Constitution, he’ll rule against it.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a similar stance Friday. "Justice Thomas is a great American and an outstanding Justice. I have total confidence in his brilliance and impartiality in every aspect of the work of the Court," McConnell said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the justice's behalf. The 73-year-old justice was discharged from a Washington, D.C., hospital Friday, a week after being admitted with flu-like symptoms.
Federal judges are subject to a published official “Code of Conduct for United States Judges,” which includes specific rules about ethics, integrity and even appearances of impropriety relating to outside business and political activities and the acceptance of gifts.
Supreme Court justices say they consult the code, but they are not bound by it or required to follow it. Congress has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation closing the loophole.
In an interview with MSNBC on Friday, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Justice Thomas' decision on the White House records shows that needs to change.
"This is an example of why a clear code of conduct is necessary for every member of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court," she said.