U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said that he had been "advised" by colleagues in the judiciary that luxury trips paid for by a billionaire GOP donor did not have to be disclosed.
In a statement released by the public information office of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, Thomas defended his conduct as revealed in a ProPublica investigation which found that he accepted generous gifts from Harlan Crow –– a billionaire and major Republican donor –– in the form of luxurious vacations on private jets, yachts, and resorts.
Thomas said that he would now follow the recently changed guidance on financial disclosures announced by the committee of the Judicial Conference.
"Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable," he said.
The revelations on Thursday immediately spurred backlash against Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the Court. Many said his actions eroded the public's trust in the institution, and several Democratic lawmakers called on him to resign.
"This is beyond party or partisanship," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "This degree of corruption is shocking, almost cartoonish Thomas must be impeached."
While there are few restrictions on what gifts justices can receive, a code of conduct for federal judges below the Supreme Court — which Chief Justice John Roberts said his colleagues should "consult" for guidance — states that justices should avoid "appearance of impropriety."
New regulations also require justices to report travel by private jet or when staying at commercial properties, such as hotels, ski resorts, or corporate hunting lodges.
ProPublica reported that Crow has donated over $10 million to Republican causes, though that figure is likely much higher because of "dark money" donations. He is also serves on the board of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that Crow had done several favors for Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas. This included financing a multimillion cannery that had been the justice's pet project; financing a library dedicated to Thomas in Savannah, Ga.; and providing $500,000 to Ginni Thomas to start a Tea Party-related political group.