News Roundup: Clarence Thomas’ Lavish Travel Gifts, Attacks on Civil Rights in the States

With so much of this week’s news focusing on former President Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday, here are some stories you might have missed, including about the other investigations Trump is facing:

  • Former Vice President Pence is not planning to appeal the ruling requiring him to testify before the Jan. 6 grand jury. “Pence’s decision to drop the appeal means he will probably testify under oath about Trump’s attempts to pressure him, and he could be a key witness,” reported the Washington Post, which also said he was likely to testify this month.
  • A federal appeals court has denied the Trump legal team’s attempt to block some of his closest advisers — including former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — from testifying.
  • Former top national security officials told the grand jury that they had repeatedly told Trump and his allies that he didn’t have the authority to seize voting machines after the 2020 election. 

Conservative leaders in several states have shown no signs of slowing down their attacks on civil rights. 

  • The governors of Indiana and Idaho signed into law bans on gender-affirming care for minors.
  • While Michigan Gov. Whitmer signed a repeal of her state’s 1931 abortion ban, Idaho signed into law legislation that criminalizes helping minors travel out of state to obtain abortion care, and the Florida Senate passed a six-week abortion ban. In Texas, the state Senate passed a bill intended to force prosecutors to pursue cases related to abortion and allegations of election fraud.
  • The Washington Post reported on the new wave of state legislation aimed at further restricting voting rights in the name of nonexistent widespread fraud. In Florida, a late-filed election bill moving quickly in the state Senate would introduce yet more barriers to voting. “While Florida has seen its last two elections run without any major problems, this marks the third year in a row that legislators have advocated a long line of changes,” reported Politico.
  • On Thursday, in an extraordinary and authoritarian action, Republicans in the Tennessee House voted to expel two Democrats, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, for having led a protest in the House chamber last week demanding stricter gun laws after the recent mass shooting. Jones and Pearson are Black; Rep. Gloria Johnson, who had stood with them during the protest and is white, barely survived the vote to expel her. “You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today,” Pearson said.

On the Records

Clarence Thomas’ Undisclosed Gifts
This week, ProPublica published an earth-shattering report on the undisclosed luxury trips Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received from billionaire Harlan Crow. The report has ignited calls for investigation, judicial ethics reforms, and even impeachment, as well as new scrutiny on the fact that since 2004 — when the Los Angeles Times published a story on thousands of dollars worth of gifts he had received — Thomas has reported receiving only two gifts.

  • A column in New York magazine responding to the ProPublica story discussed the Supreme Court’s weak ethics rules, and highlighted records we’d previously obtained that suggested Thomas was in regular contact with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • “My husband has been in contact with [DeSantis] too on various things of late,” Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, wrote in a 2021 email to DeSantis’ office.

Consultant’s Resume Sheds Light on Youngkin’s Education Agenda
Shortly after Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin was inaugurated in January 2022, the Virginia Department of Education hired Kimberly Richey as a consultant, whose résumé we obtained. 

  • In a report on Youngkin’s reliance on conservative education consultants like Richey, Virginia Public Media called attention to Richey’s résumé, which showed that while a fellow at Parents Defending Education — a conservative group that claims schools are “indoctrinating” children on issues like race and gender identity — Richey developed model legislation and school policies that staunchly opposed critical race theory. 
  • We obtained the résumé through our investigation into Youngkin’s education measures, including his anti-critical race theory tip line. Learn more about that investigation here.

RAGA’s Corporate Interests
In a story about state attorneys general bolstering corporate interests, the Union of Concerned Scientists cited records we previously obtained that highlight the level of access that top corporate donors to the Republican Attorneys General Association have.

  • The records, previously reported on by the Center for Media and Democracy, showed top RAGA donors meeting with South Carolina AG Alan Wilson in 2021, who was then RAGA’s national chair. 
  • “Those donations have enabled RAGA to support sustained, multipronged efforts to challenge federal government initiatives that threaten the interests of RAGA’s benefactors,” wrote Elliott Negin.

Other Stories We’re Following

Threats to Democracy and Voting Rights
  • Jury in defamation suit against Fox won’t hear about Jan. 6 (Associated Press)
  • Attacks on Dominion Voting persist despite high-profile lawsuits (New York Times)
  • Dark money groups push election denialism on U.S. state officials (Guardian
  • Legislative election committees catered to conspiracy theorists (Arizona Mirror
  • Inside the FBI’s Jan. 6 investigation of the Proud Boys (New York Times)
  • Red-state elections officials balk at voter registration outreach (Michigan Advance)
In the States
  • The Christian liberal-arts school at the heart of the culture wars (New Yorker)
  • Kansas bans transgender athletes from women’s, girls’ sports (Associated Press)
  • Kansas passes trans bathroom bill, Arkansas OKs own version (Associated Press)
  • ICE is grabbing data from schools and abortion clinics (Wired)
  • Texas Senate approves education savings account bill — but House signals a tough road ahead (Texas Tribune)
National News
  • Right-wing legal activist accused of misusing $73m from non-profit groups (Guardian)
  • Right-wing media splits from DeSantis on press protections (New York Times)
  • Biden administration says schools may bar trans athletes from competitive teams (Washington Post)
  • Founder of sheriffs movement and head of ivermectin group accused of stealing $350,000 in donor money (The Daily Beast)
  • FDA to allow a second updated booster for seniors and the immunocompromised (New York Times)
  • IRS overhaul aims for tenfold increase in audits of the wealthy (Washington Post)