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Concerns about Justice Clarence Thomas' disclosures are sent to judicial panel

A pair of Democratic lawmakers asked the U.S. Judicial Conference to weigh in on Thomas' failure to disclose gifts and luxury travel he allegedly accepted from a GOP billionaire.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits during the formal group photograph at the Supreme Court on April 23, 2021.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the court in 2021.Erin Schaff/The New York Times / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Democratic allegations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to properly disclose trips and gifts paid for by wealthy GOP donor Harlan Crow in violation of the law have been referred to a judicial committee that reviews financial disclosures.

Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the director of the Judicial Conference of the United States, said in a letter to a pair of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday that she had passed along their concerns and a recent report by ProPublica to the committee.

"I have forwarded your letter to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure, which is responsible for implementing the disclosure provisions of the Ethics in Government Act and addressing allegations of errors or omissions in the filing of financial disclosure reports," she wrote in the letter, obtained by NBC News.

The letter responds to one sent last week to the Judicial Conference by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who outlined ProPublica's reporting about Thomas’ not having disclosed gifts and luxury travel from Crow, as well as the sale of properties related to Thomas to Crow.

The lawmakers wrote that Thomas "failed to report the sale" of his interest in three properties in Savannah, Georgia, to Crow in 2014, citing ProPublica. They said it appeared to be "a direct violation" of U.S. law.

"Justice Thomas’s failure to report this transaction is part of an apparent pattern of noncompliance with disclosure requirements," wrote the members, who listed details about the luxury trips and gifts Thomas accepted from Crow that he also didn't share in disclosures.

"Given this history, there is at least reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas intentionally disregarded the disclosure requirement to report the sale of his interest in the Savannah properties in an attempt to hide the extent of his financial relationship with Crow," they said.

In response to the ProPublica story, Thomas said in a statement that he and Crow are friends, adding, "Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable."

In a separate letter Tuesday to Whitehouse and Johnson, Mauskopf declined to provide answers to their questions about any advice judges and Supreme Court justices might have sought from the Judicial Conference about certain financial disclosure requirements.

In March, just weeks before ProPublica reported about the gifts and vacations, the federal judiciary announced that it had tightened its rules for what judges and justices need to include in annual financial disclosure statements.

Committees within the conference can review relevant issues and make policy recommendations to the full body. Chief Justice John Roberts is the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference, whose members are the chief judges of each judicial circuit, the chief judge of the Court of International Trade and a district judge from each regional judicial circuit.

CORRECTION (April 19, 2023, 4:39 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of the director of the Judicial Conference of the United States. She is Roslynn R. Mauskopf, not Maukopf.