Clarence Thomas’ camper angers Democrats. This is why


WASHINGTON − Democratic senators want more answers from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas about a $267,000 loan he received in 1999 to buy a luxury RV.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island wrote in a letter to Thomas’ attorney Wednesday that the judge has evaded answering whether he has paid back any of the loan.

That leaves open the possibility, the senators said, that Thomas failed to report — and pay taxes on — any portion of the forgiven loan to the IRS.

“The possibility of such a serious tax violation by a member of the Supreme Court warrants investigation,” they wrote.

Wyden heads, and Whitehouse serves on, the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax issues.

Thomas’ attorney, Elliot Berke, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He previously told the committee that Thomas “has fully complied with all court disclosure rules on this matter.”

More: Justices Thomas and Alito complain about ‘trouble’ and ‘endangered’ freedom of religion

Thomas received the loan, which the New York Times reported in August, from Anthony Welters, a health care executive and close friend of the Supreme Court justice. The camper Thomas bought with the loan was equipped with a kitchen, leather seats, a bedroom and had an orange flame motif and a pegasus painted on the back.

Finance Committee Democrats released a report in October saying that all or most of the loan Thomas received appeared to have been forgiven, but that Thomas had not reported such forgiveness as income on his financial disclosure report.

Berke told the committee in January that Thomas “made payments to Mr. Welters on a regular basis until the terms of the agreement were fully met.”

But “satisfied” can mean many things, Democrats said.

“There should be a simple answer to the question of whether Judge Thomas forgave hundreds of thousands of debts so he could retain ownership of a luxury motorcoach that doubles as a second home,” they wrote.

They asked for a detailed response by June 3.

In Berke’s January letter to the committee, he declined to provide additional information “due to concerns about the separation of powers this entails and the importance of maintaining the independence of our federal judiciary.”

In addition to the loan investigation, Thomas has been at the center of recent criticism of the judges’ acceptance of expensive trips. The court announced in November that it would adopt a code of conduct following a series of stories about trips Thomas accepted from GOP donor Harlan Crow, as well as revelations that Alito flew to Alaska for a fishing trip in 2008 on a private jet belonging to a hedge fund manager who repeatedly brought cases before the Supreme Court.

At a recent judicial conference, Thomas said Washington, D.C. is a “horrible place” where people “bomb your reputation, your good name, or your honor.”

Contributors: Ken Tran.