Clarence Thomas Refuses To Answer Answer Questions About His Sketchy RV Loan

Photo: ERIN SCHAFF / Contributor (Getty Images)
Photo: ERIN SCHAFF / Contributor (Getty Images)

Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court justice who loves road trips in his RV almost as much as he loves stripping people of their rights, got himself into some hot water recently when the New York Times revealed the money for the RV came from a wealthy friend who later forgave the loan. Thomas reportedly made very few payments before the loan was “satisfied,” although many of the details of the arrangement they had are still unclear. As the New Republic reports, Senate Democrats aren’t happy about that and recently sent him a letter demanding more details.

Specifically, Senators Ron Wyden and Sheldon Whitehouse want to know how much of the loan was forgiven because that would have amounted to “a significant amount of taxable income” that it appears Thomas never paid. “Your client’s refusal to clarify how the loan was resolved raises serious concerns regarding violations of federal tax laws,” the senators wrote.

Since the story broke, the Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chairs, has been investigating Thomas and the RV loan but hasn’t been able to get many details. The committee has been given some documents, but they only show that Thomas paid some of the interest until 2008 when Anthony Welters, the friend who had loaned him the money, forgave most of, if not all of the loan. Thomas reportedly never included the forgiven loan in his 2008 Financial Disclosure Report. He also hasn’t yet said whether or not he ever paid taxes on the amount that was forgiven.


Elliot Berke, Thomas’s lawyer, did respond to committee pressure last month, but the letter he submitted didn’t offer much in the way of details. Instead, it said Thomas “made all payments” on a “regular basis until the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full” and claimed that he had satisfied judicial disclosure requirements. Details about the specific terms of the loan, how much he paid, how long he paid, whether he was paying off the principal or just the interest, how much was forgiven still remain unanswered. Both senators are now demanding answers.

“This raises the question of whether this justice is in compliance with federal tax law, which requires a disclosure of forgiven debt and taxable income,” Wyden told the New Republic. “The central question is: Did he ever repay the principal?”

As Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas at Austin law professor, told the New Republic, the questions the senators are asking also have implications beyond the issue of whether or not Thomas never paid taxes on a forgiven loan. “We subject all federal judges — including the justices — to financial disclosure rules because we are worried about even the appearance that they are deciding cases in ways that are consistent with their financial interests,” Vladeck said. “We want judges and justices who are participating in the system and not subverting it.”

Depending on how things go, Thomas may come to regret not taking John Oliver’s offer of $1 million a year and a $2.4 million RV to just retire.

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