Monday, May 8, 2023

Clarence Thomas' "gifting" defense in the Harlan Crow scandal has been roundly rejected by federal courts, so why is the justice getting away with such a scam?

Clarence Thomas fishing at Harlan Crow's private resort.

When Clarence Thomas tries to explain his habit of accepting lavish gifts from conservative money man Harlan Crow, it usually is in the form of what commonly is called the "gifting" defense. The gist of the argument is that Thomas and Crow are such dear, close friends that the billionaire can't resist heaping big bounty on his berobed buddy -- so, therefore, it could not have anything to do with that other "B word" -- bribery.

Federal courts, however, have roundly rejected "gifting" as a defense to bribery -- including in two highly publicized Alabama cases -- so why aren't Thomas and Crow about to be subjects of an investigation and possible prosecution? It has happened to other political figures, but we are to believe that Thomas and Crow hold exalted status, above the fray -- and the law? That's not how it's supposed to work, according to a post today at

A longtime Alabama attorney and entrepreneur, Watkins says the United States is the only country in the civilized Western world that would tolerate the kind of corruption that is present in the Thomas-Crow relationship. So, why have authorities done nothing about it? Maybe it's because Thomas and Crow really are above the law? Under the headline "Message for Clarence Thomas Defenders: Don’t Worry, Unequal Justice is Readily Available at the DOJ," Watkins writes:

There is no question that billionaire Harlan Crow showered U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas with millions of dollars in unreported private jet flights, luxury yacht trips, spectacular vacation stays in expensive resorts at exotic ports of call around the world, house payments for Thomas' mother, and tuition for his adopted son, all since 1996. It took ProPublica’s recent investigative reports to fully “out” Clarence Thomas as a longtime “pay-to-play” crook.

In addition to Harlan Crow's undisclosed "gifts" to Clarence Thomas, his buddy Leonard Leo funneled secret payments of at least $80,000 to his wife, Ginni Thomas, in 2012. The payments to Ginni were accompanied by instructions to middlewoman/GOP powerbroker/money launderer Kellyanne Conway to make "no mention of Ginni" in this unreported payment arrangement.

I first wrote about Clarence Thomas’ long-running "pay-to-play” scheme on June 24, 2022. Thomas' corruption has gotten much worse since my article was published. On May 5, 2023, I wrote about Harlan Crow’s and Leonard Leo’s “gifts” to Clarence Thomas.

No country in the civilized Western world would tolerate this kind and level of public corruption on its supreme court, except the United States. In any other civilized Western country, Clarence Thomas would be in jail by now.

So why is a blind eye being turned toward apparent skulduggery involving the nation's highest court? Watkins writes:

Clarence Thomas’ defense to conduct that is obviously bribery is this: These were “gifts” from longtime friends. Thomas claims he did not report these "gifts" on his annual financial disclosure forms because he did not think it was necessary to do so.

This “gifting” defense was expressly raised and rejected in United States v. Jewell C. “Chris” McNair, 605 F.3d 1152 (11th Cir. 2010) and Unites States v. Larry P. Langford, 647 F.3d 1309 (11th Cir.2011).

The first of the two cases cited above involved Chris McNair, a former member of the Alabama Legislature and a former Jefferson County commissioner. The second case involved Larry Langford, a former member of the Jefferson County Commission and former mayor of both Birmingham and Fairfield, AL.

How is this for irony? The U.S. Supreme Court, including Clarence Thomas, rejected the "gifting" defense in the McNair and Langford cases. But when Clarence Thomas engages in similar conduct, it's A-OK? That notion does not please Donald Watkins (or me), and it should not please you. Writes Watkins:

Clarence Thomas and his fellow Justices on the Supreme Court declined to embrace and validate the "gifting" defense in the Chris McNair and Larry Langford bribery cases when the Supreme Court denied both defendants' Petitions for a Writ of Certiorari.

As articulated by McNair and Langford in their Petitions to the Supreme Court, the “gifting” defense asserts that it is not an act of bribery for a public official to accept high dollar “gifts” from “loving” friends who befriend the defendant after he/she assumes public office. To the recipient, these "gifts" are analogous to "love offerings" to a church pastor.

No Justice on the Supreme Court, including Clarence Thomas, has ever embraced this outlandish proposition of law.

Furthermore, the federal courts in the Chris McNair and Larry Langford cases ruled that a defendant's failure to disclose or report these “gifts” on his/her ethics forms is probative evidence of the defendant's “corrupt intent.” Clarence Thomas' failure to report his receipt of Harlan Crow's and Leonard Leo's "gifts" evolved into a hardcore pattern and practice of "corrupt intent."

Do we have a double standard of justice in an era where Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again (MAGA), even though he failed to do it in his first term? A double standard, indeed, seems to be in place -- and "law-and-order Republicans" apparently have no problem with that, as Watkins states:

Now that the spotlight is shining on him, Clarence Thomas obviously seeks a different judicial ruling on his failure to report the "gifts" in his case. What is more, Thomas' defenders believe he deserves preferential treatment in his case. After all, Thomas is a MAGA Republican Supreme Court Justice who was appointed to his judgeship for life.

Yet, the U.S. Constitution does not provide a carve-out for "gifts" received by Clarence Thomas that would make him exempt from a federal law prosecution for bribery. It would not be appropriate to create one now just for Thomas.

Interestingly, Clarence Thomas has offered no legal defense as to why he failed to report the value of the multimillion-dollar “gifts” that were conferred upon him by Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, and other big donors on his federal tax returns. Perhaps, that is because there is none.

In Larry Langford’s case, his failure to report the $250,000 in “gifts” that he received from his benefactors on his tax returns was sufficient to convict him on tax-fraud charges (and other criminal offenses).

Is there any need for Thomas' defenders to worry? Nope, says Watkins, America's two-tiered "justice system" will keep him safely protected:

Clarence Thomas' defenders (and Thomas himself) have no worries about criminal charges in his case for three reasons.

First, Thomas is billionaire Harlon Crow’s “House Nigga.” He is the premier "Uncle Tom" in America.

Second, Thomas has revered status in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. He is a rock star with MAGA Republicans.

Even though legal scholars have rated Clarence Thomas as one of the four worst Justices in the history of the Supreme Court, and despite the fact that Thomas lacks character, ethics, and integrity, MAGA Republicans love him, unconditionally.

Clarence Thomas' rock-star status within the GOP makes him immune from a federal criminal prosecution during Joe Biden's presidency. Biden has a 36% approval rating in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday. As a practical matter, Biden cannot afford a court fight involving Clarence Thomas' various bribery schemes, ethics violations, and tax fraud. The only criminal case Biden really cares about right now is Hunter Biden's.

Third, unequal justice is available to Clarence Thomas under U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. If there is any doubt about this point, just ask Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and George Santos how it feels to be a member of this protected class of public officials. Wells Fargo, Silicon Valley Bank, First Republic Bank, and the Southern Company can also vouch for joys of this special "I am above the law" protected status, as well.

Merrick Garland and his Department of Justice are weak, afraid, and impotent when it comes to enforcing federal criminal laws against members of the protected MAGA hierarchy and big-time Wall Street thugs.

In closing, I have this message for all Clarence Thomas defenders: When it's all said and done, Clarence Thomas will be okay. He can keep accepting his multimillion-dollar “gifts.” Thomas seems to relish the "gift" of a luxurious lifestyle from his "loving" friends.

At the end of the day, Clarence Thomas is a role model for what MAGA Republicans seek and demand in federal judges! Ethical conduct is desirous, but optional. The flawless execution of the MAGA political agenda from the Supreme Court bench is mandatory. Nothing else matters.

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