Ken Paxton

Ken Paxton

Photo from the Texas Attorney General's official Facebook

On Saturday, September 16, far-right Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted on 16 articles of impeachment in the Texas Senate. Republicans have majorities in both branches of the Texas Legislature, but while he was indicted in the Texas House of Representatives, he was found "not guilty" during his trial in the Senate.

But Washington Post opinion writer Karen Tumulty, in her September 18 column, stresses that the bitter, ugly fight between pro-Paxton Republicans and anti-Paxton Republicans (including "Bush Republicans") is just beginning in Texas.

Paxton's attorney Tony Buzbee angrily declared, "Let it be known. Let it be clear now: the Bush era in Texas ends today" — a comment Tumulty describes as a "warning shot" and a "naked appeal to the tribalism that has reshaped the once-rational GOP in Texas."

"That the fix was in for the attorney general in the Senate probably should have been apparent back in July," Tumulty explains. "That's when a campaign finance report revealed that a pro-Paxton political action committee, known as the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, had donated $1 million and made an additional $2 million loan to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who would preside over the impeachment trial."

Tumulty adds, "Yes, you read that right: The person acting as judge took $3 million from the defendant's deep-pocketed allies. Was it any wonder that only two Republicans in the Senate, where the lieutenant governor serves as president of the chamber, voted to convict?"

The columnist notes that "Paxton's far-right forces are now promising all-out warfare on the Republican House members — starting with Speaker Dade Phelan — who tried to remove the attorney general from office."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas released his long-delayed 2022 financial disclosure statement, revealing three more previously unknown trips Thomas took last year courtesy of his billionaire “friend,” Harlan Crow. That includes one trip where Thomas says Crow provided a private plane due to “increased security risks following the Dobbs decision leak.”

Thomas doesn’t explain why those concerns about facing the public after a ruling was leaked in which he helped strip a fundamental right away from half the population also required that Crow cover the cost of Thomas’ meals on that trip. But then, Thomas also says Crow paid for transportation following an ice storm, so apparently even an inconvenience is a sufficient excuse to line up a private plane. It’s good to have friends.

Thomas' disclosure also contains a section in which he explains that he never listed these trips in previous years because past rules didn’t explicitly state that he had to report “transportation that substitutes for commercial transportation.” That “explicitly state” is doing a serious amount of heavy lifting for a guy whose entire job is to determine how laws apply to situations not explicitly detailed in those laws.

In addition to Thomas’ disclosure, his attorney had a statement in defense of his client. Anyone concerned that Thomas’ statement didn’t have enough complaints about liberals just coming after Thomas because of his “judicial philosophy” can find plenty of such complaints courtesy of attorney Elliot Berke.

According to Berke, Thomas has always tried for “full transparency.” It’s just that no one told him explicitly that reporting gifts covered private plane trips, housing, meals, or … gifts. “After reviewing Justice Thomas’s records,” writes Berke, “I am confident there has been no willful ethics transgression, and any prior reporting errors were strictly inadvertent.” Berke seems to think this puts any issues to bed.

Again, this is a Supreme Court justice saying he didn’t have to comply with the rules because they did not explicitly include the situation in which he accepted a gift, and that justice’s attorney following up by saying anything the justice did wrong is forgivable because it was “inadvertent.” These are standards every criminal defendant in the nation should applaud.

Hitting a big right-wing checkbox, Berke’s statement twice accuses left-wing critics of Thomas of “weaponizing” ethics rules, which is another way of saying investigators at ProPublica uncovered Thomas’ long list of unreported transactions and exposed at least a portion of the acts he was hiding. But Berke has an excuse for why Thomas didn’t have to explain any of this.

For several months now, left wing “watchdog” groups have been attacking Justice Thomas for alleged ethical violations largely stemming from his relationships with personal friends who happen to be wealthy.

What Berke doesn’t mention is that Thomas met those “personal friends” after he joined the Supreme Court. And the reason they “happen to be wealthy” is that they first met when Thomas joined Crow on his private jet. Thomas accepting gifts of flight, lodging, and meals from Crow isn’t something that developed because they were old school chums. It was Crow's wealth that brought them together to begin with.

In fact, that first meeting came when Crow provided Thomas with free transportation to a conservative speaking gig, which is exactly what Crow did again last year. Twice.

The third trip in 2022 was another incident in which Thomas apparently took a vacation on Crow’s dime—as one does when one’s “friend” just happens to be a billionaire. The first time Thomas accepted such a trip was just months after he and Crow first met. The exact nature of the third 2022 trip wasn’t detailed in the disclosure statement, which only shows that Crow covered “transportation, meals, and lodging” while Thomas and his wife were “guests of source.” However, past trips have included international flights and lengthy stays on a private 162-foot yacht, with one such trip valued at over $500,000.

Despite multiple lavish trips, this is how Thomas described his own thoughts about travel.

“I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States. I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.”

That statement comes from a documentary about Thomas’ life. A documentary funded in large part by … Harlan Crow. Odds are pretty good that wherever the undescribed trip Crow funded last year took place, it was not a Walmart parking lot.

In addition to the new trips, the biggest addition to Thomas’ disclosure is the word “inadvertently.” According to the form, Thomas inadvertently overlooked no fewer than 12 instances in which bank accounts or insurance policies should have been reported on past forms.

“Inadvertently” is also used to explain how Thomas left off the fact that Crow purchased his real estate property in Savannah, Georgia, in 2014. But then Thomas claims that the deal, which included Crow fixing up Thomas’ childhood home while allowing Thomas’ mother to continue living there, then buying Thomas out for an amount well above fair market value, actually represented a capital loss. So that’s no big deal.

Overall, Thomas' statement seems more like something an attorney would provide a petty criminal trying to escape charges for kiting checks than a document appropriate to a Supreme Court justice. Only most of those petty criminals would actually have to pay for their transgressions. Thomas will not.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.