Hill Dems back-burner Ginni Thomas even as Supreme Court grabs national attention

Ginni who?

Outraged Democrats demanded accountability after Virginia Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas also known as Ginni, was revealed pressing top White House officials to overturn the 2020 election. But a cascade of competing crises have since pushed the Thomases out of the headlines, and the fervor for action against them on Capitol Hill appears to have faded.

In the wake of the Ginni Thomas texts, some in the party’s left flank called for Justice Thomas' impeachment or resignation, and others proposed censure. Yet despite renewed interest in high court ethics after the breach of a draft majority opinion showing the justices likely to strike down Roe v. Wade, House Democrats acknowledged in interviews that there's simply too much else going on for them to keep a sustained focus on the Thomases.

Many Democrats said that since the Jan. 6 select committee has vowed to consider the matter, that would be good enough for them. The Capitol riot panel has been silent on the matter for weeks, however, suggesting that Democrats may be content with simply putting Ginni Thomas on the back burner.

“The January 6 committee is looking into that aspect,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s subpanel overseeing courts, when asked if its members should act more on Thomas. “We may hear more about Ginni Thomas' participation in the planning and execution of the insurrection. We will wait and see what the Jan. 6 committee public hearings will bring out.”

Other Democrats pointed to the House Judiciary panel's passage last week of a judicial ethics bill, which had been in the works before the Thomas controversy but ultimately dovetailed with the issues it raised. Justice Thomas drew more headlines over the weekend after giving remarks that decried the erosion of government institutions without mentioning the controversy that had erupted around his wife’s call to stop the transfer of presidential power.

Ginni Thomas' prominence in the conservative advocacy world, notably, has also put her at the forefront of anti-abortion messaging efforts.

“We just had a vote on ethics for the Supreme Court. And I think that's, right now, what we did,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who also quipped: “With Ukraine, with the economy, with Covid, and with the NBA playoffs — those are the first things on my mind.”

So far, the Jan. 6 select committee has closely held most of the information investigators have collected on last year's attack on the Capitol and the leadup to it — including anything it may have received about Ginni Thomas, who pressed then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to do more to fight to overturn Donald Trump's loss in 2020.

“Do not concede. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back,” Ginni Thomas told Meadows in a Nov. 6, 2020, text message. The text was part of a disclosure of 29 messages between Meadows and Ginni Thomas first reported by CBS and the Washington Post. The messages invoked various election-related conspiracy theories and also suggested she had contacted other figures in Trump’s orbit and on Capitol Hill.

Meadows had turned over 2,319 text messages, including Ginni Thomas’, to the select panel as part of a tentative cooperation agreement before it fell apart last December. His replies to Thomas’ messages were supportive but cursory.

“I will stand firm. We will fight until there is no fight left,” he said in a Nov. 10, 2020, response to a different message from Ginni Thomas asking Meadows to “Help This Great President stand firm.” Meadows added: “Our country is too precious to give up on. Thanks for all you do.”

Committee members have noted that Ginni Thomas was not the only one pushing fringe conspiracy theories on Meadows in that post-election period. In fact, he was on the receiving end of a wide swath of messages from figures, including GOP lawmakers, who espoused conspiracy theories about the election and pushed for extreme actions by the former president's administration.

Investigators have expressed alarm that the conspiracy theories reached the Oval Office, though it’s unclear if Meadows or other officials ever took action on Ginni Thomas’ urgings.

But the select committee has so far declined to tip its hand on its plans for Ginni Thomas — or whether they even consider her a significant part of their investigation. Select Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has said his panel could call her in for questioning, but investigators haven’t publicly taken that step yet.

“She hasn't come up recently” in the committee’s regular business, Thompson told reporters Friday.

Over its 10-month investigation, the Jan. 6 panel absorbed elements of other committees’ work. It picked up where a House Oversight Committee probe left off, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s report on Trump’s attempts to overturn the election included recommendations for the House select panel to investigate a fellow lawmaker and other pro-Trump figures.

And even as the select committee’s work continued, it coordinated with other committees to avoid overlap.

“If we have things related to January 6, we send it to them,” said Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

“We talk with them and we decide who’s doing what,” said Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee dismissed questions about whether they'd shirked their oversight duties regarding Ginni Thomas and pointed to how their legislation, had it been law already, could have addressed much of the controversy around the Thomases by creating rules for potential conflicts of interest on the high court.

“His wife has very serious activities around 1/6, around overturning the election, around Roe. He needs to be held to account. He's in a conflict situation. So I think that's exactly what we're doing,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.).

The judicial ethics measure faces an uncertain future in the full House, let alone the 50-50 Senate.

CORRECTION: An previous version of this report misidentified Rep. Madeleine Dean's home state. She represents Pennsylvania.
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Dems push DOJ to look at Trump after Jan. 6 panel’s blockbuster

The Jan. 6 committee has dropped a stick of political dynamite by outlining a criminal case against former President Donald Trump, but the Justice Department decides whether to light the fuse. And Democrats are starting to nudge.

In a blockbuster Wednesday night court filing, congressional investigators said there’s a strong case the former president committed felony obstruction when he tried to overturn the election, among other potential charges. Jan. 6 panel members, however, say DOJ shouldn’t wait for them — importantly, it could be months before they make the call on any related formal criminal referrals.

And progressives are starting to ramp up pressure on DOJ to investigate.

“The evidence is mounting that there was a concerted effort to overturn the results of the election in so many different ways. And there’s, in my view, a lot of information that President Trump knew about it — and more,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said Thursday.

Until now, Washington has viewed the decision on a criminal referral against Trump as a major pivot point in the Jan. 6 probe. But select panel members are now saying there may not be a need for one, given how much detail they’ve outlined in the public record so far — which leaves the onus increasingly on Attorney General Merrick Garland, as Democrats worry about their own foothold in Congress and Trump openly weighs another run in 2024.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the select panel, said he's concerned that DOJ has not yet taken potential crimes by Trump and his network seriously enough. The lack of overt signs that Trump is being investigated suggests that the department has not yet moved, he observed.

“If the Justice Department believes there is evidence of a crime involving anyone, including the former president, they should be investigating it,” Schiff said.

He’s airing a pervasive Democratic fear: if DOJ doesn’t act against Trump, there will ultimately be no consequences for a scheme that threatened the peaceful transfer of power. While the former president is facing a separate investigation by New York’s attorney general into his finances and a county prosecutor probing his pressure on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to pursue baseless claims of voter fraud, a federal Jan. 6-related investigation touching Trump would be a national conflagration.

It’s a fire that some senior Democrats aren’t quite clamoring to stoke.

“I'm not worried about that,” Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said when asked if the Jan. 6 panel’s finding should speed up Garland’s pace. “I don't know where [DOJ is]. I haven't asked them, officially or unofficially."

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the select committee’s chair, took a similar hands-off approach.

“At the end of the day, we’re not a criminal entity, so we can only say what we found and we believe,” Thompson said. “And obviously, if another agency wants to take it up based on that evidence, it’s up to them.”

Whether DOJ is investigating potential crimes by Trump or his inner circle has remained an elusive and consequential question. The Justice Department has arrested and charged nearly 800 people who joined the mob attack on the Capitol, alleging crimes ranging from simple trespassing to seditious conspiracy, police assault and obstruction — the same crime the select committee says Trump may have committed.

But there are some indications that DOJ’s Jan. 6 investigation, which it describes as the most complex in U.S. history, has brushed up against Trump-world. For example, several members of the Oath Keepers charged with breaching the Capitol also served on a security detail for Trump ally Roger Stone. Prosecutors have also been investigating a group run by Trump ally Sidney Powell, an attorney who encouraged Trump to seize voting machines in service of his bid to reverse the election.

In November, the department indicted former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress after he failed to comply with a subpoena from the select committee. The panel also referred Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows for contempt prosecution in December, but it’s unclear whether DOJ is investigating the matter.

Other Democrats in the House and Senate were emboldened by Tuesday’s voluminous release of evidence by the select committee, saying it created a moral imperative for DOJ to take action.

“Criminal prosecutions are appropriate. No question,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who served as a manager during Trump’s second impeachment trial for the Jan. 6 insurrection, though he emphasized the independence of the department.

“My reaction? What took you so long?” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) of the conclusion that Trump likely violated the law. “Donald Trump needs to be held accountable for what appear to be crimes.”

Hirono, a Judiciary Committee member, said she wanted the Justice Department to take action, and if it were referred to the department, they need to “decide one way or the other whether they’re going to investigate or whatever they’re going to do.”

Though much of the attention on the select committee in recent months has centered on whether they will formally refer Trump or others in his orbit for criminal prosecution, committee members made clear their decision is more symbolic than substantive.

“The Justice Department doesn’t have a requirement to wait for Congress. Historically, it doesn’t wait for Congress and I don’t think it should wait for Congress here,” Schiff said.

He added that a criminal referral could even backfire. “Congress has to be careful not to play into any narrative that a prosecution that the Justice Department would bring is politically motivated,” he said.

Other panel members emphasized that their goal was not to make criminal recommendations anyway, but rather to propose policies intended to prevent future abuses of the electoral process and close loopholes that allowed Trump to perpetuate false claims that he could reverse the election results on Jan. 6.

“It's not the purpose of our committee to pursue criminal acts,” said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a select committee member. “As we've said, if something comes to our attention, we'll refer that information to the Department of Justice appropriately."

Marianne LeVine and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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