U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted free trips to Nebraska to attend Husker football games without reporting the gifts, according to a new report.
Thomas has been criticized for accepting multiple gifts and special treatment from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow and not reporting them in his financial statements. Thursday’s report by ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism group, expands the list of undisclosed luxury trips that Thomas accepted from wealthy friends — including a number of trips provided by businessman David Sokol.
ProPublica’s latest report tallied at least 38 vacations, including seven that featured comped tickets to Husker football games. Some of them Thomas watched from inside former head coach Tom Osborne’s skybox, which typically costs about $40,000 a year.
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In a statement to ProPublica, Osborne confirmed Thomas has “watched a couple of football games” in his suite, which the university had given to him. He said he is “taxed” for the use of the suite but did not answer whether Thomas has ever reimbursed him.
Thomas, a Husker fan, was given VIP passes to games through his friendship with Sokol, formerly a top executive at Omaha’s Berkshire Hathaway.
According to the report, Sokol has hosted Thomas and his wife, Ginni, who is from Omaha, virtually every summer for a decade, funding private jet trips and stays both in and out of Nebraska. Five of the seven Husker games were arranged by Sokol, but none of the tickets — nor any other gifts from Sokol — were disclosed by Thomas on his yearly financial forms. ProPublica documented the trips through social media posts and emails.
During at least one of the trips arranged by Sokol, Thomas met with the football team the day before the game, walked out of the tunnel before kickoff and stood on the sidelines to watch the marching band perform at halftime. He also watched a Husker volleyball game from a luxury suite the same day.
ProPublica identified more than 60 federal judges who disclosed tickets to sporting events between 2003 and 2019. In 1999, Thomas disclosed private flight and accommodations for the Daytona 500 but hasn’t reported any other sporting events before or since.
Judiciary disclosure rules require that most gifts worth more than $415 be disclosed. The report suggests some of the unreported gifts could be illegal.
“It’s so obvious,” Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said in the story. “It all has to be reported.”
Sokol told ProPublica that he first met Thomas and his wife in 2002, and has been friends with the couple ever since. He defended the justice’s character, and said they have never discussed any pending Supreme Court matters. He also criticized ProPublica’s reporting on the issue as a “clear attempt to impune the integrity” of Thomas.
Still, Sokol has publicly commented on pending Supreme Court cases, including one speech last year in which he criticized President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, predicting it would be overturned by the high court. That prediction later turned out to be true this summer.
Sokol defended the private airplane trips that have been provided to Thomas.
“I believe that given security concerns all of the Supreme Court justices should either fly privately or on governmental aircraft,” he said.
According to ProPublica, in 2019, after one of Thomas’ trips to attend a Nebraska football game, Thomas flew with Sokol by private jet to Sokol’s Paintbrush Ranch just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The property, valued in the low eight figures, sits in the foothills of Shadow Mountain. A local radio personality said of the estate: “This is the ultimate home and it has the most iconic view of the Tetons I’ve seen. Ever.”
Sokol also owns a waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, currently worth $20.1 million, where he’s hosted the Thomases as well, ProPublica reported. The 12,800-square-foot property includes a home theater, elevator, walk-in wine cellar and yacht docking.
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