Oops! Team Thomas Offers Baffling Explano For Ethics Lapse
INSIDE: Jack Smith ... Evan Corcoran ... Jim Jordan
A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo.
Thomas To Amend Financial Disclosure Form
Overnight, Justice Clarence Thomas – via one anonymous source to CNN – offered his first response of any kind to the second round of revelations from ProPublica about his relationship with billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow. It’s not an official response from Thomas, but I guess he’s hoping it’ll do for now.
The top line for most of the coverage will be that Thomas will amend his financial disclosures to include the previously undisclosed 2014 real estate transaction wherein Crow bought Thomas family properties in Georgia, including the house where Thomas’ mother lived and still lives.
But the explanation offered to CNN by the source on Thomas’ behalf is in considerable internal tension with itself, even as it offers some potential new and interesting information. Let me just reproduce this key paragraph in the CNN report:
The source said Thomas has always filled out his forms with the help of aides, and that it was an oversight not to report the real estate transaction. Thomas believed he didn’t have to disclose because he lost money on the deal, according to the source.
A lot going on there, so let’s break it down.
First off, the side-swipe blaming of aides is super classy. Points for throwing underlings under the bus.
Second, which is it: an “oversight” or a deliberate decision not to disclose because he didn’t think he had to? Those aren’t usually the same thing. An oversight is when you mistakenly fail to include something you knew you should include and maybe even intended to include but missed it somehow. Not disclosing something on purpose is a different ball of wax. The generous read might be that the “oversight” was misinterpreting the disclosure rules and requirements. But that’s not really an oversight. That’s just flat out getting it wrong.
We learned quite a bit more of interest from the “source.” I’m going to use CNN’s exact language to begin with:
“As a part of the negotiated sale price, [Thomas’ mother], who was 85 at the time of the deal, was given an occupancy agreement to be able to live in the home for the rest of her life, the source said.”
“She lives rent free but is responsible for paying the property taxes and insurance.”
“Thomas and his wife put $50,000 to $70,000 into his mother’s home in capital improvements, and once the sale was completed, Thomas’ proceeds were $44,000, according to the source. Because there was no gain, Thomas thought there was no need to report, the source said.”
So much to decipher here, but it’s pretty obvious the defense being mounted on Thomas’ behalf. To summarize, yes, Thomas’ mother has lived in the house rent-free since 2014 (and for the rest of her life!) but this was somehow baked into the sale price at the outset. So no freebie for the Thomas family, is the implication, because that was negotiated as part of the original sales price. The only way that works is if the Thomases reduced the sale price considerably to offset the future unpaid rent. Maybe, maybe not. But was any of that documented in real time in a way that will withstand scrutiny? Oh and also she’s paying taxes and insurance, so …
Also, I get the sense there’s an effort here to muddle the capital improvements issue. Recall ProPublica reported that Crow put in tens of thousands of dollar in improvements to the home after he bought it. Team Thomas seems to want credit for having made a lot of improvements to the home, too! So many in fact that they took an overall loss on the deal (even setting aside the future rent offset?) hence Thomas’ mistaken reading of the rules that he didn’t have to disclose it.
Finding your concerns assuaged by this “source”? Me either.
Another Thomas Disclosure Fail
For years, Justice Clarence Thomas has been reporting rental income from a company associated with his wife’s family even though it’s been defunct since 2006. The old company seems to have transferred its real estate holdings to a similarly named newer company. Thomas hasn’t disclosed anything related to the newer company.
Dominion v. Fox Trial Delayed
The landmark Dominion defamation case against Fox News was slated to begin today in Delaware. But late Sunday, the judge announced that the start of the trial would be delayed until Tuesday. He did not give a reason.
With rumors of a late push by Fox to settle the case before trial, “DO NOT SETTLE” was trending on Twitter Sunday evening.
Ahead of trial on Friday, Fox submitted a written apology to the judge in the case for not revealing in a timely fashion that Rupert Murdoch is an officer of Fox News. That incident plus other recent revelations prompted the judge to sanction Fox last week and threaten to appoint a special master to investigate whether Fox improperly withheld evidence from Dominion and the court. “We understand the Court’s concerns, apologize, and are committed to clear and full communication with the Court moving forward,” Fox attorney Blake Rohrbacher wrote.
NBC News: See what Fox News tried to redact in the Dominion defamation case
Another Angle To The MAL Obstruction Probe
We’ve known for some time that federal prosecutors are examining whether attorneys paid for by Donald Trump to represent people close to him sought to improperly influence their testimony in the Jan. 6 investigations, but CNN reported Friday that Special Counsel Jack Smith is looking into the same issue in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation.
Trump Attorney-Turned-Witness Recuses Himself From MAL Case
After being forced to testify against his own client, Trump attorney Evan Corcoran has withdrawn from representing the former president in the Mar-a-Lago case. Ethics rules generally prohibit a lawyer from representing a client in a proceeding where the lawyer is a also a witness. Corcoran is reportedly still actively involved in defending Trump in the Jan. 6 investigations.
Donbass Devushka Revealed To Be Sarah Bils
WSJ: “A social-media account overseen by a former U.S. Navy noncommissioned officer—a prominent online voice supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine—played a key role in the spread of intelligence documents allegedly leaked by Airman First Class Jack Teixeira.”
Abortion Pill Judge Pulled A Fast One On The Senate
During his judicial nomination process in 2017, Matthew Kacsmaryk took the unusual step of removing his name from a law review article criticizing Obama-era protections for transgender people and people seeking abortions.
Congress Is Back This Week
Combine an aging and infirm Senate with a narrow partisan majority, and the Senate news looks like a injury report for a sports team:
Not That Easy: Senate Republicans appear unlikely to go along with the ill Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s plan to step down indefinitely from the Judiciary Committee and be replaced by another Democratic senator in order to resume judicial confirmations.
Welcome Back: Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) returns to the Senate after in-patient treatment for depression.
McConnell Is Back, Too: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is back on the Hill after an extended hospitalization for a brain injury he sustained in a fall.
McCarthy Struggles To Get His Members Together
KEY POINT: The House GOP is still threatening to hold the world economy hostage by refusing to agree to a debt ceiling increase, but Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his members haven’t reached any kind of consensus among themselves over what the ransom note should say.
Keep that in mind as you monitor the coverage of the House reconvening in DC while McCarthy gives a debt limit speech in NYC.
Jim Jordan Brings His Circus To NYC
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) is bringing his corrupt defense of Donald Trump to NYC today, where’s he’s holding a field hearing targeting Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg.
Relatedly, you might be familiar with NYT Pitch Bot, the Twitter accounts that mocks the Grey Lady by churning out vapid headlines and story pitches in the NYT style. My favorite ones, though, are when it just tweets what’s actually in the NYT that day. Like this insipid Jim Jordan profile:
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces he will not run for president in 2024.
Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign vastly overstated her latest fundraising numbers by double counting money moving among various committees.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) endorses Trump for president.
How Many More Years of Living Dangerously?
Managed retreat from coastal flood zones is the smart way to adapt to the perils of climate change. But that’s not what’s happening.
Katie Porter Won’t Tolerate Your Bad Faith Jan. 6 Comparisons
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on Thomas--this feels like a Bar Exam question asking you to spot the issues and describe what further information you would need to know. EG:
Why no fair market value listed on the sale-tax document after putting all that money into it?
Was mama paying rent before? Was there a mortgage she was paying off? If so, did she pay all of the payments or 1/3?
Was mama paying tax and insurance before? Why, if it belonged to all three?
Did mama and brother family actually get THEIR 44K (the 133K divided by 3)
Did mama and brother pay for any of the improvements? Why not if they were co-owners
How was this all treated on income tax. Did CT claim it as a loss? How about mama and brother's family?
What was the basis in the house?
Where did mama et al get the house? Family home--from deceased dad? When? Basis bumped up to what?