Harlan Crow signals he’ll defy subpoena over Thomas gifts

Real estate magnate indicates he won’t comply if Senate demands information, testimony

Harlan Crow and Justice Clarence Thomas
Harlan Crow and Justice Clarence Thomas (Wikipedia, GW Bush Center)

This Crow likely won’t fly to Washington, D.C.

Texas billionaire Harlan Crow, a conservative real estate magnate known for bestowing lavish gifts on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, has indicated he won’t cooperate with a Senate subpoena if one is issued, Bloomberg reported.

While a subpoena has not yet been issued, the brewing confrontation presents a test for a politically divided Senate’s ability to utilize one of its most powerful investigative tools and highlights the challenges Congress faces in obtaining information.

Crow’s stance resembles the refusal of Donald Trump’s allies to provide information to the House panel investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. These subpoenas resulted in numerous court battles but were ultimately withdrawn. 

Similarly, Crow has repeatedly rejected demands from the Democratic chairmen of two Senate committees to provide detailed information about gifts and transactions benefiting Justice Thomas, asserting that it is not Congress’s business. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse believes that subpoenas are likely in both cases.

So far, Crow’s lawyers have responded to the committees with a dismissive attitude. The possibility of a subpoena has loomed over recent testimonies, including those of CEOs from Starbucks, Norfolk Southern Corp., and Silicon Valley Bank. 

However, the partisan nature of the controversy surrounding Crow’s gifts and the frequent use of filibusters to impede Senate action have emboldened him, the outlet reported. 

If Crow fails to comply with a committee subpoena, the Senate would need to vote to take him to court, a move that has no precedent for filibustering.

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Not enforcing subpoenas risks weakening Senate committees’ ability to uncover abuses in the private sector and hold unwilling business executives accountable before the public. 

Committees still possess some leverage, as the chairman can request the Justice Department to prosecute individuals who ignore subpoenas for contempt. However, this process is less efficient, and the department often declines to pursue such cases.

Leaders of the committees investigating Crow’s gifts are still considering their options. While Democrats on the Judiciary Committee would likely support issuing a subpoena, Chairman Dick Durbin emphasizes the need for a thoughtful and orderly approach. Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden is engaged in productive discussions with other Democrats regarding next steps, including the possibility of a subpoena.

Crow’s connections to Justice Thomas have come under scrutiny due to reports of luxury travel and real estate transactions that were not disclosed on Thomas’s annual financial reports. 

The travel included rides aboard the Bombardier Global 5000 private jet or the 162-foot superyacht; and trips to Bohemian Grove, the volcanic archipelago in Indonesia or the private resort in the Adirondacks, among other things.

The gifts from Crow and his wife to Thomas were “no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends,” Crow said in a ProPublica article. But ethics experts were not so sure. 

“It’s incomprehensible to me that someone would do this,” Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge, told ProPublica.

Calls for subpoenas have followed letters from Crow’s attorney to the committees, with Crow’s legal team claiming that the committees lack jurisdiction and a legitimate legislative need for the information.

Ted Glanzer