Senator Wyden Renews Calls for Harlan Crow to Detail Gifts to Clarence Thomas

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(Bloomberg) -- Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden on Tuesday renewed his demand that GOP donor Harlan Crow provide a detailed account of expensive trips and gifts that he provided to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, just days after a Crow attorney refused to do so.

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In a letter to Crow attorney Michael D. Bopp, Wyden rejected the idea that Crow can ignore the information request because it isn’t for the purpose of drafting legislation and that the committee lacks jurisdiction to require it. Wyden, in a statement, implied that unless Crow fulfills his request, the senator may try to get committee backing to issue a subpoena to the Texas-based billionaire.

“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, an Oregon Democrat, wrote. “I realize the committee may need to follow another route to compel his answers, and I’m prepared to make that happen.”

Over two decades, Crow paid for vacations for Thomas and his wife, including trips on a yacht and private jet, ProPublica has reported. Thomas, who hadn’t disclosed the travel, later amended his disclosure and defended his decision to not document the trips.

Wyden first asked Crow to detail travel and other gifts to Thomas in late April, saying it was likely the flights and other expenses would have sparked a need to file a gift tax return. He demanded detail about all flights taken by Thomas and information about their value recorded on any tax documents or other records. He also asked for information related to reports that Crow bought three properties from Thomas and other members of his family, including the home where his mother resides.

Crow’s attorney last week in a letter to Wyden questioned whether the Finance Committee has jurisdiction to conduct “tax audits or judicial ethics inquiries.” The inquiry, Bopp wrote, “appears to be a component of a broader campaign against Justice Thomas and, now, Mr. Crow, rather than an investigation that furthers a valid legislative purpose.”

Wyden, in his Wednesday letter, said those claims “are without merit” in part because the panel has long history of oversight and legislating on gift and estate tax laws. He gave Crow until June 2 to supply all the answers requested about travel and other gifts to Thomas.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week sent their own letter demanding Crow detail gifts or payments to Thomas.

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