WASHINGTON — The wealthy Republican donor who has come under fire for lavish gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas defended the latest revelation Thursday that he paid thousands in school tuition for one of the justice's relatives.
ProPublica reported Thursday that Harlan Crow had paid for Thomas' grandnephew, Mark Martin, to attend two private schools in the late 2000s, the latest in a series of reports detailing previously unknown financial ties between the two men that have prompted outcry and calls for ethics reform. The latest report from ProPublica included an interview with Martin, his former classmates and former staff and, while the exact total for his education is unclear, the cost could have been at least $150,000.
ProPublica reported that Thomas, who was at one point Martin's guardian, didn't disclose the tuition payments from Crow on his annual financial disclosures. The outlet also noted that several years earlier, Thomas did disclose a $5,000 gift from another friend that funded Martin's education.
While NBC News has not independently verified the details in the report, Crow's office released a statement that didn't deny the story. It said that Crow and his wife have "long been passionate about giving back to those less fortunate, especially at-risk youth" and they have supported many young Americans through scholarships and other programs at a number of schools, including his alma mater.
"Tuition and other financial assistance is given directly to academic institutions, not to students or to their families," his office said. "These scholarships and other contributions have always been paid solely from personal funds, sometimes held at and paid through the family business. 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."
NBC News has reached out to the Supreme Court with requests for comment from the court and Thomas.
Mark Paoletta, Thomas' friend and a lawyer who served in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations, defended the Supreme Court justice in a lengthy note posted on his Twitter account.
“Justice Thomas and his wife made immeasurable personal and financial sacrifices and poured every ounce of their lives and hearts into giving their great nephew a chance to succeed,” he said. “Harlan Crow’s tuition payments made directly to these schools on behalf of Justice Thomas’s great nephew did not constitute a reportable gift.”
He added that the ProPublica story was “another attempt to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas” and said “this malicious story shows nothing except for the fact that the Thomases and the Crows are kind, generous, and loving people who tried to help this young man.”
Thomas has already been under fire over other allegations reported by ProPublica that he failed to properly disclose trips and gifts paid for by Crow and also didn’t disclose the sale of properties related to Thomas to Crow. Thomas said that he had been advised that the trips and gifts were "personal hospitality from close personal friends" and did not have to be reported in disclosures. On the sale of properties, Thomas didn't respond to ProPublica's detailed questions, while Crow said in a statement to the outlet that he had purchased Thomas' mother's house to preserve it for a possible future museum showing where the justice grew up.
Republican allies in Congress have defended Thomas, saying the accusations are rooted in liberal opposition to his legal opinions.
Several Democrats expressed outrage over the latest report, with some calling on him to resign from the bench.
“Justice Thomas must resign. If he doesn’t, I’m calling on @SpeakerMcCarthy and @HouseGOP to get the ball rolling on his impeachment. Anything less amounts to their total complicity in his abuse of public trust,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., tweeted.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., tweeted, “When does the stench get bad enough that SCOTUS stops the cover-up and ends the mischief? This is on the Chief Justice to solve, plain and simple. Mom’s rent, family tuition, vacations and gifts — and secret? Any other government employee would be fired.”
"Clarence Thomas is corrupt as hell and the corruption at the republican Supreme Court stinks to high heaven. Thomas should resign immediately and I urge all my colleagues to demand the same," Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., tweeted.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., tweeted, "Justice Thomas has compromised the integrity of the country’s highest court. He should resign."
"Thomas is utterly and irredeemably corrupt. That is a personal failure," Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., tweeted. "But the broader SCOTUS’ refusal to address these ethical lapses is a bigger problem because it suggests a disrespect not only for themselves, but for our entire democratic institution."