GOP donor Harlan Crow paid private tuition for relative of Justice Clarence Thomas

WASHINGTON − Republican megadonor Harlan Crow paid private boarding school tuition for the grandnephew of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to a report Thursday in ProPublica that was likely to bring a fresh round of scrutiny to both Thomas and the ethics practices at the nation's highest court.

Thomas had taken legal custody of his grandnephew at the time and told C-SPAN in an interview he was "raising him as a son." Tuition at the Georgia boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month, ProPublica reported. Thomas did not note the payments from Crow on his annual financial disclosures.

The revelation was the latest involving Thomas and Crow, who paid for lavish trips and private jet travel for the justice and his wife and who purchased three Georgia properties from Thomas and his family − none of which were reported on disclosure forms officials are required to file to give the public insight into their financial arrangements.

The court did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Mark Paoletta, who has represented Thomas' wife, Ginni, said the tuition payment was not reportable because disclosure requirements do not cover nephews.

"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.

What's the potential impact of the latest Clarence Thomas revelations?

  • The latest ProPublica story came as Thomas and the Supreme Court are under heightened scrutiny from Congress and outside groups over ethics concerns. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday in which Democrats, in particular, slammed the court for a series of recent stories questioning disclosure practices.

  • But the debate over ethics at the Supreme Court has also become increasingly partisan, and Republican senators at the hearing accused Democrats of highlighting the ethics issues as a way to delegitimatize a court that handed down several controversial and conservative opinions on abortion, guns and religion in recent years.

  • In response to the initial ProPublica story about travel, Thomas said he was "advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable." He said he has "endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure," Thomas said in a statement, "and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines."

Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court are under heightened scrutiny from Congress and outside groups over ethics concerns.
Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court are under heightened scrutiny from Congress and outside groups over ethics concerns.

'Harlan picked up the tab'

It was not clear exactly how much money Crow spent on the tuition at the school, Hidden Lake Academy. ProPublica identified a bank statement for July 2009 that showed Crow paid the tuition for Thomas' relative that month. Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school, told ProPublica that Crow paid the tuition the entire time Thomas' grandnephew was a student there.

“Harlan picked up the tab,” Grimwood told ProPublica.

Crow's office responded with a statement asserting that his family has supported many scholarships and blamed "partisan political interests" for trying to turn an effort to help "at-risk youth" into something "nefarious."

Thomas and Ginni Thomas have also accepted luxury trips for years paid for by Crow, including international travel on his private jet and yacht, ProPublica reported last month. Crow also purchased three Georgia properties from Thomas and members of his family in 2014, a transaction that Thomas failed to note on his annual disclosure forms.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Clarence Thomas relative received tuition from GOP donor Harlan Crow