Senate Finance Committee reissues records requests to Crow over Thomas gifts

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a new letter to GOP megadonor Harlan Crow asserting his committee’s jurisdiction to investigate the gifts he gave over the years to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Wyden said in a release Wednesday the letter should eliminate “any doubts” about the committee’s jurisdiction and legislative and investigative history looking into tax compliance, tax avoidance and gift taxes.

The letter comes after Crow, a real estate developer who has donated millions to conservative causes for years, questioned the committee’s ability to investigate his gifts to Thomas.

Controversy has swirled around Thomas in recent weeks following multiple ProPublica reports that Thomas has received luxury vacations from Crow and that the billionaire paid for the private boarding school tuition for Thomas’s great-nephew. Crow also bought a house from Thomas and his family that Thomas grew up in.

Thomas did not disclose any of these gifts on his annual financial disclosure forms.

Wyden asked Crow last month to provide a full list of flights and gifts he gave to Thomas, saying the “secrecy” around his relationship with Thomas is “simply unacceptable.”

Crow’s attorney, Michael Bopp, responded they have “serious concerns” about the scope of the investigation, as well as the committee’s authority to conduct it. Bopp argued Wyden was requesting the records to target Thomas, which he said is not a legitimate legislative purpose.

The Oregon senator responded in the Wednesday letter that Bopp’s assertions do not have merit because a “cursory” review of the committee’s past activities shows it has the authority to make such requests.

“Your letter ignores the Committee’s extensive history considering legislation on matters related to the gift tax, which is a backstop to both our nation’s income and estate tax regimes,” he said.

The Wednesday letter lists several examples of past similar actions, including a 2017 report on strategies that wealthy individuals use to avoid paying gift, estate and transfer taxes and a 2019 proposal to require wealthy taxpayers to treat gifts as taxable dispositions for income tax purposes.

Wyden said the Finance Committee is conducting several investigations into the ways wealthy individuals avoid or evade paying federal taxes, making the request to Crow in line with the committee’s actions.

“I believe that tax laws affecting enormous gifts and transfers of wealth by high net worth individuals are in urgent need of reform,” he said. “I also believe that, when appropriate, Congressional oversight should be done in a manner that informs the public of the policy implications of the behavior being investigated.”

Wyden resubmitted questions he asked in the original letter, seeking details about Crow’s interactions with Thomas. He requested a reply by June 2.

“My hope is that with the issue of committee jurisdiction settled, Mr. Crow provides answers to the questions I’ve put before him a second time,” Wyden said in the release. “I realize the committee may need to follow another route to compel his answers, and I’m prepared to make that happen.”

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