WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas disclosed Thursday that he received four free trips last year — three of them from billionaire Harlan Crow — as new questions emerged about President Biden’s recent stay at billionaire Tom Steyer’s Lake Tahoe home.
Crow, a real estate developer and Republican donor, paid for Thomas’ travel to American Enterprise Institute conferences in Dallas last February and May and hosted the justice at his Adirondacks home for a week in July, according to the annual financial disclosure filing.
The Hatch Center covered Thomas’ transportation and lodging costs for a March speech in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Steyer, who invests in environmentally friendly companies as Biden steers federal policy and funding toward green-energy initiatives, purportedly rented his lakefront mansion to the extended Biden family for nine days earlier this month after the president took heat for repeatedly staying for free at the homes of wealthy Democrats and failing to disclose the stays on annual ethics forms.
Crow has no known business before the Supreme Court, but his gifts of free trips to Thomas have received sustained coverage and criticism this year following an investigative series by ProPublica, prompting ethics filings against the longest-serving Supreme Court justice and calls for his impeachment from congressional Democrats who denounced the gifts as unethical.
Thomas’ defenders say he complied with judicial disclosure policies as they existed at the time and note that Biden has routinely failed to disclose free vacation stays at the homes of benefactors who have more apparent potential conflicts of interest.
In Biden’s case, the donors generally aren’t home when he vacations at their abodes.
Federal reporting laws have an exception for personal hospitality for lodging — meaning that officials don’t have to report if a homeowner is hosting them as a guest — and Thomas’ defenders say there was a lack of clarity on disclosing connected transportation, which they argue was treated as part of that exception under a policy described in 2006 by the the then-chairman of the Judicial Codes of Conduct Committee.
Thomas disclosed the four 2022 trips after the Judicial Conference changed reporting guidance in March of this year.
“The attacks on Justice Thomas are nothing less than ridiculous and dangerous, and they set a terrible precedent for political blood sport through federal ethics filings,” Thomas attorney Elliot Berke said in a Thursday statement.
The White House claimed Aug. 18 that the Bidens were “renting” Steyer’s home “for fair market value,” prompting an investigation by the local Nevada officials — with Douglas County code enforcement director Ernie Strehlow telling the Record-Courier newspaper that Steyer lacked the required vacation home rental permit and risked a $20,000 fine.
For reference, a smaller five-bedroom home near Steyer’s six-bedroom mansion is marketed to rent on Airbnb for $19,304 before taxes for a similar length of time to Biden’s stay.
The county, however, quietly closed the case last week and said that it could not “substantiate” that a violation occurred — despite a violation seeming to be confirmed by the White House’s public claim that Biden was renting the home and Strehlow confirming that Steyer lacked a permit.
“Douglas County Code Enforcement has followed the standard procedures related to code complaints and cannot substantiate that a code violation occurred. We consider the matter closed at this time,” the local government said.
County officials would not provide The Post with additional information on the investigation, including whether the probe ended because it was determined the home wasn’t actually rented.
Spokespeople for Steyer and the White House did not respond to requests for comment and it’s unclear how the terms of a rental agreement ever would be disclosed unless the parties choose to do so.
Ethics experts told The Post in May that Biden must disclose free vacation home stays and that his failure to do so on his 2022 forms puts him at risk of possible felony charges if the omissions are willful.
“I think whoever is preparing these forms is not focusing. And if it’s intentionally left off, then you get into the [criminal] false statements law … and that could be a felony,” Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush White House and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress, said at the time.
Read most liberally, the personal hospitality exception in federal ethics laws allow for the omission of all free trips at the homes of benefactors claimed to be friends, but Painter and fellow ethics expert Walter Shaub, who led the Obama-era Office of Government Ethics, say that it’s clear the law only applies if the homeowner is present.
“It’s not the rich-friend-who-can-give-you-stuff exception. It’s supposed to apply to things like your friend’s kids’ wedding or a home cooked meal with your friend,” Shaub said earlier this year.
Biden, like Thomas, has a long record of accepting free stays. Unlike with Thomas, the host generally isn’t home, and the president travels at taxpayer expense rather than the host’s.
Biden and his family spent seven days last August at the nine-bedroom Kiawah Island, SC, mansion of donor Maria Allwin, whose family runs a hedge fund, after asking her to use the home, a source told The Post at the time.
“They’re not paying. They’ve never paid,” the source said.
First lady Jill Biden extended her stay on Kiawah another five days after testing positive for COVID-19.
In November, the extended Biden family stayed for six days at the Nantucket Island compound of billionaire investor David Rubenstein, cofounder of the Carlyle Group.
The White House and a spokesperson for Rubenstein didn’t respond to inquiries about whether the Bidens paid.
In late December and early January, the first couple, their daughter Ashley and grandkids Natalie and Hunter stayed seven days for free as “guests” at the beachfront St. Croix home of businesspeople Bill and Connie Neville.
The arrangement turned heads because the home typically is a VRBO rental and because the Nevilles just weeks earlier attended Biden’s first state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, joining about 300 guests including many billionaires and political and cultural powerbrokers.
Biden previously used Rubenstein’s compound in 2021 and didn’t disclose the stay as a gift. He stayed at Allwin’s beach house as VP in August 2009 and March 2013 and didn’t disclose the trips as gifts on his disclosure forms.
Biden visited St. Croix at least five times as VP between 2014 and 2016, according to local news reports, and again as a private citizen in 2019. At least some of those stays were at the Nevilles’ house, which is advertised as having “hosted President Biden on his many trips to St. Croix.”
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