A close friend of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is speaking out against new allegations from a left-wing news outlet that GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow improperly paid for Thomas’ great-nephew’s private school tuition, and says those claims are “another attempt to manufacture a scandal.”
A report published in a ProPublica Thursday revealed that Thomas’ great-nephew, whom Thomas and his wife had taken into their care in 1997, had his tuition paid for by Crow at two private schools. The story says Crow paid for tuition for one year at Hidden Lake Academy in Georgia and one year at Randolph-Macon Academy in Virginia.
Mark Paoletta, an attorney who served in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations and who is a close friend of the Thomas family, called the story “despicable.”
“The Thomases love their great-nephew. It is despicable that the press has dragged him into their effort to smear Justice Thomas,” Paoletta stated in a tweet Thursday.
Justice Clarence Thomas has come under fire over reports he failed to disclose gifts from a major GOP donor. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
“The Thomases have rarely spoken publicly about the remarkably generous efforts to help a child in need,” Paoletta said. “They have always respected the privacy of this young man and his family. It is disappointing and painful, but unsurprising that some journalists and critics cannot do the same.”
Paoletta said that in 2006, the Thomases were struggling to find a school where they could send their great-nephew, and that in discussion with Crow and his wife Kathy, Crow recommended that they send him to Randolph-Macon Academy, which Crow had also attended.
“Harlan had financially supported Randolph-Macon since the 1980s, and funded scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Harlan offered to pay the first year of Justice Thomas’ great-nephew’s tuition in 2006, and that payment went directly to the school,” Paoletta stated.
“Harlan Crow’s office confirmed that he did not pay the great-nephew’s tuition for any other year at Randolph-Macon. After some time, Randolph-Macon recommended the great-nephew attend a boarding school in Georgia for one year. Harlan offered to pay the first year of tuition for their great-nephew at the Georgia school, and again, those tuition payments went directly to the school. By the next school year (2009), the Thomases’ great-nephew returned to Randolph-Macon. He moved back to Savannah in December 2009, after he turned 18,” he explained.
“This story is another attempt to manufacture a scandal about Justice Thomas,” Paoletta said.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits with his wife and conservative activist Virginia Thomas while he waits to speak at the Heritage Foundation in 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
“But let’s be clear about what is supposedly scandalous now: Justice Thomas and his wife devoted 12 years of their lives to taking in and caring for a beloved child – who was not their own – just as Justice Thomas’ grandparents had done for him,” Paoletta said.
“They made many personal and financial sacrifices to do this. And along the way, their friends joined them in doing everything possible to give this child a future,” he stated.
Paoletta said Crow’s tuition payments made directly to these schools on behalf of Justice Thomas’ great-nephew did not constitute a reportable gift.
Thomas was not required to disclose the tuition payments made directly to Randolph-Macon and the Georgia school on behalf of his great-nephew because, according to Paoletta, the definition of a “dependent child” under the Ethics in Government Act does not include a “great-nephew.” It is limited to a “son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter.”
Paoletta said Thomas never asked Crow to pay for his great-nephew’s tuition, and neither Crow nor his company had any business before the Supreme Court.
“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.,” Paoletta said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Associated Press)
“The Thomases – quietly and honorably – devoted 12 years of their lives to helping a beloved child in desperate need of love, support and guidance. In 1997, Justice Thomas and his wife brought their great-nephew to live with them. They agreed to take in this young child much as Justice Thomas’ grandparents had done for him and his brother in 1955,” Paoletta said.
“Justice Thomas’ grandparents changed the trajectory of his life, and the Thomases hoped to do the same for a child in need. 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.
This is ProPublica’s second investigative report on Thomas’ friendship with the billionaire real estate developer with whom he took luxury vacations on his private jet and yacht, as well as free stays on Crow’s vast vacation property.
Thomas defended the trips and explained that he has always followed Supreme Court guidance. But the revelations sparked outrage from Democrats, who say such expenditures should have been disclosed.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on Supreme Court ethics in light of the news reports on Thomas.
But ranking Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said the hearing was “a concentrated effort by the left to delegitimize this court and cherry-pick examples to make a point.”
“This assault on Justice Thomas is well beyond ethics,” Graham said. “It’s about trying to delegitimize a conservative court that was appointed through the traditional process.”