Senate Democrats subpoena Harlan Crow, escalating probe of GOP megadonor's relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas

Harlan Crow
Texas billionaire and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow is seen here in 2015.Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Senate Democrats pushed forward on a subpoena of Harlan Crow.

  • The GOP megadonor has been at the center of ethics concerns regarding Justice Clarence Thomas.

  • Republicans railed against the move, which they have repeatedly tried to delay.

Senate Democrats on Thursday voted to issue subpoenas to GOP megadonor Harlan Crow and conservative legal activist Leonard Leo after months of reporting called into questions potential ethical violations by conservative Supreme Court justices.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin sparked the ire of his Republican colleagues who mostly walked out of the hearing as it became clear that he would press ahead on the issue. Republican senators previously filed 177 amendments to the subpoena authorization, including a subpoena of Jeffrey Epstein's estate for his private flight logs.

Before they walked out, top Republicans on the panel tore into Durbin.

"You just destroyed one of the most important committees in the United States Senate," Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said after Durbin tried to curtail Republicans from speaking on unrelated judicial nominations that appeared to be designed to delay the subpoena vote.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the panel, blasted Durbin's action, warning that the panel could now go after private individuals at its will.

"This is a political effort by the radical effort to destroy this court," Graham said. "You have subpoenaed two prominent, conservative people. You have ignored other problems within the court … this raw politics, this dangerous politics, and this committee is taking the country down a very dangerous road."

Durbin has long vowed to press on with requiring Crow and Leo to comply with the Senate's demands after the pair refused to do so. Crow has been in the news for months related to his friendship to Justice Clarence Thomas. ProPublica uncovered numerous trips and gifts Crow lavished on the justice and his family, which Thomas often did not list on his financial disclosure. Leo organized a lavish fishing trip with Justice Samuel Alito, which was attended by Paul Singer, a conservative billionaire, who later had cases before the the high court. Thomas and Alito have denied any wrongdoing.

Amid the air of scandal, the Supreme Court announced that the current justices had agreed to a code of ethics earlier this month that lacks any significant enforcement mechanism. Senate Democrats have complained that the life-time appointed justices are left to largely police themselves without any significant oversight of potential ethical violations.

A spokesperson for Crow said in a statement to Courthouse News that the subpoena was "invalid" but that the Texan would continue to try to work with the committee on a compromise.

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