WASHINGTON — Republican donor Harlan Crow on Monday wrote in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee that he will not provide a list of gifts he gave Justice Clarence Thomas, who has faced recent calls to step down.
Crow conveyed that decision to Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Monday, which a representative for Crow provided to NBC News. Wyden spokesperson Ryan Carey also confirmed to NBC that the committee had received the letter.
“We have serious concerns about the scope of and authority for this inquiry. As you are aware, the Committee’s powers to investigate are not unlimited,” the letter from Crow’s lawyer, Michael D. Bopp, said.
The Senate Finance Committee, Bopp argued, lacks a legislative purpose in its request for the list of gifts, saying that the “Supreme Court has explicitly stated that Congress has no authority to engage in law enforcement investigations or to conduct investigations aimed at exposing citizens private affairs for the sake of exposure.”
The committee also lacks the authority to conduct a tax audit, Bopp wrote, “for the purpose of determining whether Justice Thomas complied with ethics standards the Chairman believes should apply in this instance.”
In addition, Bopp said that the panel’s inquiry targeting a Supreme Court justice “raises substantial separation of powers concerns.”
The letter argues that the Crows, whom Bopp said have been friends with the Thomases for more than 20 years, have provided hospitality to the justice and his family. The IRS, Bopp wrote, has not been aggressive in arguing a gift tax law applies in that context. He also said that the sale of properties related to Thomas, which the judge didn’t disclose, complied with federal and state gift tax laws.
Politico was the first to report the news about Crow’s rejection of Wyden’s request from April 24.
In a letter to Crow, Wyden had asked for a full accounting of extravagant undisclosed trips, gifts and payments that were first reported by ProPublica.
Specifically, Wyden asked for a detailed list of all of Thomas’ free flights aboard Crow’s private jets and trips on his superyacht, an accounting of federal gift tax returns for gifts made to Thomas or his family and information about three Georgia properties Crow bought from Thomas and his relatives.
The Democratic senator also asked whether any company Crow owns treated any travel on Crow’s yacht or private jets that included Thomas as business expenses for tax purposes.
Crow’s refusal to comply with the request is separate from the investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Monday asked Crow in a letter to identify the full extent of what he has given to Thomas and any other Supreme Court justices.
Durbin and other Democrats on the committee asked Crow to provide an itemized list of gifts worth more than $415 that he gave to Thomas or any other justices or their family members. They also asked Crow to provide a full list of real estate transactions, transportation, lodging and admission to private clubs he might have provided.
More revelations have recently surfaced about the relationship between Crow and Thomas, including a report from ProPublica last week that said Crow had paid thousands in school tuition for one of the justice’s relatives.
Lawrence Hurley contributed.