The Biden interview: Supreme Court, threats to democracy and Trump’s vow to exact retribution

by John Harwood


ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

President Joe Biden said Friday that he was not fully confident that the current U.S. Supreme Court, which he described as extreme, could be relied on to uphold the rule of law.

When asked the question directly, Biden paused for a few seconds. Then he sighed and said, “I worry.”

“Because,” he said, “I know that if the other team, the MAGA Republicans, win, they don’t want to uphold the rule of law.”

But he said, “I do think at the end of the day, this court, which has been one of the most extreme courts, I still think in the basic fundamentals of rule of law, that they would sustain the rule of law.”

Still, Biden said the court itself should recognize it needs ethics rules after stories by ProPublica revealed that billionaires had given undisclosed gifts to Supreme Court justices and that Justice Clarence Thomas has made appearances at events for donors to the Koch political network. The code of conduct that applies to other federal judges doesn’t apply to the Supreme Court. “The idea that the Constitution would in any way prohibit or not encourage the court to have basic rules of ethics that are just on their face reasonable,” Biden said, “is just not the case.”

The discussion was part of a rare formal interview on a topic the president has laid out as a priority: How America’s democracy is under siege. Seated in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday afternoon, Biden seemed relaxed and confident, batting back a question about why he thinks he’s the only Democrat who can protect democracy next year, especially given voter concerns with his age: “I’m not the only Democrat that can protect it. I just happen to be the Democrat who I think is best positioned to see to it that the guy I was worried about taking on democracy is not president.”

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Biden cast the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump’s 2024 candidacy as a resistance movement animated by fear of change. “I think Trump has concluded that he has to win,” Biden said, noting the rising vitriol in the embattled former president’s rhetoric. “And they’ll pull out all the stops.”

Biden linked the attempt by House Republicans to bring Washington to “a screeching halt” through a government shutdown to Trump’s effort to regain the presidency. He warned against the desire of “MAGA Republicans” — which he called a minority of the GOP, much less the nation as a whole — to weaken institutions such as the federal civil service to shift power over the U.S. government toward the president alone. Trump has promised his supporters to “be your retribution” in a second term.

The drama over a government shutdown resulted from the “terrible bargain” Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with extremist colleagues to secure his job, Biden said. “He’s willing to do things that he, I think, he knows are inconsistent with constitutional processes.” He added: “There is a group of MAGA Republicans who genuinely want to have a fundamental change in the way that the system works. And that’s what worries me the most.”

Biden faulted his Democratic Party for failing at some points to respond effectively to one of the wellsprings of the anti-democratic threat: the anxieties of Americans, most conspicuously blue-collar white men, unsettled by economic, cultural and demographic change.

What’s needed isn’t so much economic benefits as “treating them with respect,” said Biden, who has emphasized his middle-class Scranton, Pennsylvania, upbringing throughout his political career. “The fact is, we’re going to be very shortly a minority-white-European country. Sometimes my colleagues don’t speak enough to make it clear that that is not going to change how we operate.”

Biden expressed confidence that the majority of the Republican Party and the nation itself would ultimately safeguard the American experiment. But he exhorted them to “speak up” in opposition to the increasingly menacing rhetoric Trump has deployed in response to his legal peril.

“[Do] not legitimize it,” he said. He added, in what seemed a reference to the vitriol aimed at jurors and potential jurors in trials for the Jan. 6 insurrection and Trump-related cases, “I never thought I’d see a time when someone was worried about being on a jury because there may be physical violence against them if they voted the wrong way.”

He encouraged Americans concerned about democracy to be “engaging” more with family, friends and acquaintances who have embraced extremism. Even more urgent, he added, is voting in next year’s presidential election. “Get in a two-way conversation,” he said. “I really do believe that the vast majority of the American people are decent, honorable, straightforward. … We have to, though, understand what the danger is if they don’t participate.”

ProPublica also asked Biden whether his former Senate colleague Joe Lieberman is upholding democracy by working with an organization called No Labels to pursue a potential third-party candidacy. “Well, he has a democratic right to do it. There’s no reason not to do that. Now, it’s going to help the other guy. And he knows [that]. … That’s a political decision he’s making that I obviously think is a mistake. But he has a right to do that.”

Biden was asked whether Fox News and other outlets that spread falsehoods about the 2020 election drive the threat that he’s concerned about or simply reflect sentiment that already exists. Both, Biden said: “Look, there are no editors any more. That’s one of the big problems.” Without providing detail, he suggested that reporters on outlets such as Fox are just doing what they’re told.

In response to a question about whether the decision by Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X (formerly Twitter), to lower guardrails against misinformation contributes to the problem, Biden said, “Yeah, it does.” Biden noted that the invention of the printing press had effects that are still felt today. He suggested something similar was happening with the internet. “Where do people get their news?” he continued. “They go on the internet. They go online … and you have no notion whether it’s true or not.”

Clarence Thomas definitely not corrupt, say people whose careers he launched

Oh, very big news, everyone. Over 100 former clerks to Justice Clarence Thomas have signed an open letter announcing that Thomas is just great, nothing to see here, no corruption so everyone needs to shut up about that.

Fox “News” is boosting the story, and it helpfully includes the actual letter itself, which is ... wow, a whole lot of not much, actually. In general, when you're defending someone against charges of accepting improper favors from people who, say, purchase his mother's house, fix it up and let her live there rent-free in preparation for turning the site into a museum of Why Clarence Thomas Is Great, you'd want to include some actual defenses.

But the Clarence Thomas Is Great Club skips all of that. Instead, most of the letter is a retelling of Thomas' entire life story. It’s a story of hardship and more hardship and being inspirational until now, finally, he's at the top of the American hierarchy and gets to be friends with people who own yachts.

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"Home was Pin Point, among the Gullah-Geechee and oysters and marshlands. His father left. And a fire took all he had and the shack where he lived." And after a while his grandfather "enrolled him in a Catholic school run by Irish nuns.” Then he went to law school, and "took the road less traveled," which in this case means he "went to work for Republican Jack Danforth in the middle of Missouri.” It's just paragraphs of that rather than anything about the vacations or the yachts or the inability of the Catholic-educated ex-seminary-student-turned-lawyer to properly fill out a gift disclosure form to save his life.

It's all pretty obviously cribbed from a pre-written obituary sitting in a drawer somewhere, but it brings to mind one of the sappier introductions cookbook authors use to tell the story of how they found their favorite recipe.

"When I was seventeen, I was attacked by an ax murderer, who cut off one of my arms. Using the severed arm as a club, I beat him senseless and ran to the nearest house for safety, but the house turned out to be owned by the granddaughter of an old-timey gangster and was haunted by the spirits of three Girl Scouts who refused to let me leave until I purchased all their remaining Thin Mints. After returning home and getting my arm reattached, I was subjected to an IRS audit, which made me so distraught that I drove to the ocean to throw myself off a pier. After tying cement blocks to both feet, I jumped, landing on the sandy seabed. It was there I discovered, lodged between two rocks, the most delightful recipe for this astonishing raspberry tart."

Instead of a recipe, though, the former clerks close the section off with an insistence that this is "a story that should be told in every American classroom, at every American kitchen table, in every anthology of American dreams realized.” I get that some people have endured more hardship than others, but the notion that legal dinosaur Thomas is among the most amazing of them all is the sort of claim that will get your lights punched out during Hagiographers Society bruncheons.

More to the point, as historian Kevin Kruse points out, the letter's focus on Thomas' history rather than his conduct is "a rehash of the Bush White House's plan for his confirmation, what they called 'the Pin Point strategy.'" That makes it sound suspiciously astroturf-y.

Not to worry, though: Just look at the names of the former clerks vouching for Thomas. Among the great American legal minds defending Thomas’ integrity are John Eastman, who is currently under indictment in Florida and listed as co-conspirator in the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted coup, as well as prominent war crime proponent John Yoo. If you can't trust Eastman and Yoo to tell you who's got integrity and who doesn't, there's just no pleasing you.

Anyway, after that we get a paragraph reminiscing about how Thomas is just a damn fine fellow to work with, a real pal. "His chambers become our chambers—a place fueled by unstoppable curiosity and unreturned library books, all to get every case just right," wax his old clerks, just casually dropping an anecdote of the oozing-with-integrity Supreme Court justice who can't even return his library books.

It's only at the tail end of the letter we finally get to some vague references to the rude questions the public keeps asking about Thomas and the rest of the court: "Lately, the stories have questioned his integrity and his ethics for the friends he keeps" is the closest the open letter gets to even hinting at the current scandals.

Well, yes. That's accurate, if impossibly opaque. Outside critics are indeed questioning his integrity because of the friends he keeps, most specifically "friends" who are 1) known conservative megadonors linked with Republicanism's long-term plans for packing the courts with hard-right loyalists like several of Thomas' junior peers, and 2) who started plying him with unusually expensive gifts that include lavish vacations and future Museums of Clarence Thomas only after he was presented with his long black robes.

So, fine, let's turn this around: Where were these Republican yacht owners back when Thomas was in Pin Point, among the Gullah-Geechee? Where were they when his home burned down, or when he was in segregated schools, or when he was doing hard farm work, or in the seminary, or working to gain entry to law school?

Oh. Right. They were nowhere. The billionaire class now giving the Supreme Court justice free yacht rides and renovating his mom's house didn't give a flying shit about Thomas through any of that. It was only when Thomas landed his ass in a position of ultimate American legal authority that boy howdy did he make so many new friends. Very, very rich friends with statuary gardens who would have had their security teams shoot Thomas in the head if he appeared on their property during any time of his life when he was not a Supreme Court justice.

This isn't like returning library books, you know. When you're on the Supreme Court, surrounded by supplicating clerks that have fought tooth and nail to be your own personal servants and who will absolutely return your library books for you if you told them to do it, you're supposed to at least pretend to follow the same ethical guidelines as every other last sodding person in government. Even if you, by a strictly technical reading of the laws, don't really have to.

That one vague sentence is the end of talking about the thing Thomas is actually being criticized for. Then we're back to gauzy references to his life story and how even coup plotters like Eastman and international war crime defenders like Yoo find Thomas just so damn "unimpeachable" that it brings tears to their eyes to think anyone would doubt him.

"A bust of his grandfather—himself raised by a grandmother born into slavery—watches over his office," goes one of the closing lines, a line that's both inspirational and that is a reminder that there are very few families in America who can afford to commission a freakin' bronze bust of a grandparent. But there's no actual content to the letter other than, “He's a great guy to work with,” say the people whose careers he helped start.

Just ask Trump Deputy Legal Adviser John Eisenberg, who moved to improperly classify the transcript of the Trump call to Ukrainian officials that would lead to Trump's first impeachment. Just ask Bush-era waterboarding defender Steven Bradbury, or Harlan Crow-linked 5th Circuit Judge James Ho, the judge who recently made news for a laboriously crackpotty dissenting opinion claiming that Catholic doctors had standing to block abortions they had nothing to do with because they suffer an aesthetic injury when women take mifepristone without their permission.

Yeah. Yeah, let's ask all of these people to vouch for the integrity of the guy getting yacht trips from billionaires, said Clarence Thomas' closest allies. That'll work out great.


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Clarence Thomas is the undisputed king of SCOTUS grift

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is the gods’ gift to investigative reporters. The man has apparently not paid for a goddamned thing in his life since Ronald Reagan installed him in his first powerful government position. His grift goes so deep, according to a new report in from The Guardian, that his powerful network of former clerks had to pay for the privilege of attending his Christmas party.

According to Venmo records reviewed by The Guardian, several former clerks who are now powerful attorneys sent payments to Thomas’s aide, Rajan Vasisht, who was in the job from July 2019 to July 2021 for a 2019 Christmas bash with the justice. The amount of money each sent to Vasisht’s Venmo account wasn’t disclosed, “but the purpose of each payment is listed as either ‘Christmas party’, ‘Thomas Christmas Party’, ‘CT Christmas Party’ or ‘CT Xmas party’, in an apparent reference to the justice’s initials.” Given that Vasisht was Thomas’ aide, scheduling his personal and official calendar and handling his correspondence, there’s no other reason for these high-powered Washington, D.C., lawyers to be sending him money.

Among those who sent money is Patrick Strawbridge, a partner at Consovoy McCarthy, who just secured a big win at the Supreme Court representing the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in its suit against the University of North Carolina. He has also worked for the Trump Organization, the Trump family, and Donald Trump, including representing Trump in his failed bid to keep his tax returns from becoming public—his first oral argument before the court. He clerked for Thomas in 2008-2009.

The Consovoy in Stawbridge’s firm is Will Consovoy, who was a fellow Thomas clerk in the same term. Consovoy also worked for Trump, trying to shield his tax records from then-Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. Consovoy was originally lead counsel in the case overturning affirmative action, but withdrew from oral arguments at the court when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died earlier this year.

Other former Thomas clerks who sent party money include:

Kate Todd, who served as White House deputy counsel under Donald Trump at the time of the payment and is now a managing party of Ellis George Cipollone’s law office; Elbert Lin, the former solicitor general of West Virginia who played a key role in a supreme court case that limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; and Brian Schmalzbach, a partner at McGuire Woods who has argued multiple cases before the supreme court.

Most of Thomas’ former clerks have landed in extremely influential positions thanks to their association with Thomas, and of course the Federal Society that helped them get where they are now. A raft of them—about two dozen—ended up with Trump-appointed jobs, either in the administration or in the federal judiciary. In private practice, former Thomas clerks end up in the vast right-wing network of firms that help dark money groups manufacture court cases to do things like overturn decades of precedent in abortion protections, affirmative action, environmental regulation, etc. The Thomas alum are with firms that regularly go before the court and in judgeships on the lower courts, where they can help tee up cases to go to SCOTUS. It’s a right-wing judicial swamp.

Thomas has bragged about how he has the most diverse clerks from all backgrounds. “They are male, they are female, they are black, they’re white, they’re from the West, they’re from the South, they’re from public schools, they’re from public universities, they’re from poor families, they’re from sharecroppers, they’re from all over,” he said in 2017 while talking to students at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Thomas’ wife Ginni has also written about how the former clerks are like extended family and she’s the “den mother” to the group. She’s organized big reunions (which the clerks probably ended up paying for) and coordinated them all on Facebook. That ended up extending into soliciting their help with the insurrection, for which she had to apologize. Not that there weren’t insurrectionists in the group: John Eastman is among them. He’s facing potential disbarment in California for his part in the attempted coup, and because he has “repeatedly breached professional ethics.” It’s noteworthy Eastman’s “family” from his days clerking for Judge J. Michael Lutting in the mid-1990s included 2020 elector objector Ted Cruz, one of the only senators to back the 2020 scheme.

Whether the powerful, well-connected group of lawyers who paid for Thomas’ Christmas party breached those professional ethics is murky at this point. Kedric Payne, the general counsel and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Guardian that it is possible that this was simply a pay-your-own-way kind of Christmas party rather than them paying Thomas’ expenses. That would be different from a scheme of lawyers paying for access to a Supreme Court justice. “But the point remains that the public is owed an explanation so they don’t have to speculate.”

Yes, we are owed that explanation, and it’s not likely to be forthcoming. At the heart of this is Thomas’ unbounded propensity for grift, his never-ending grudge against everything, and his sense of entitlement—you see, he’s owed the lavish lifestyle his “friends” have provided him. If that includes making his extended “family” of clerks—more like a crime family—pay for the Christmas party he is hosting for them, so be it. He actually has a lot in common with Trump, doesn’t he?

This is precisely what the founders created impeachment for: Clarence Thomas. It is definitely time for Democrats to draw up those impeachment charges, even though it’s not going to happen. It can’t happen because Republicans are just as corrupt as he is. They aren’t going to let a little corruption between friends stand in the way of overturning progress case by case. But by keeping his scandals front and center, Democrats can make Republicans own him and his corruption.

The only solution to the problem of Thomas is a political one: Beat the Republicans and fix this. That means expanding the court to nullify his presence and ending lifetime appointments to the court so the likes of Thomas can’t happen again.

Harlan Crow blows off another Senate committee

Harlan Crow, Texas real estate magnate and very dear friend of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has instructed his lawyer to tell yet another Senate committee to pound sand. Congress doesn’t have the authority to oversee the Supreme Court, the lawyer asserted in a response to the Judiciary Committee’s request for details of the millions of dollars in gifts, travel, hospitality, and real estate transactions provided to Thomas by Crow—money and perks that Thomas has failed to disclose for decades, potentially in violation of federal disclosure laws.

“After careful consideration,” Crow’s lawyer, Michael Bopp, writes, “we do not believe the Committee has the authority to investigate Mr. Crow's personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas.” Of course it has that authority. That whole “checks and balances” business we all learned about in civics class—that’s what that’s about. The founders wouldn’t have allowed for the impeachment of Supreme Court justices if they didn’t intend for Congress to be able to check the court.

Crow’s lawyer isn’t just asserting that the Supreme Court is off limits, but that anyone a justice receives special favors from is off limits, too. Life’s great when you’re an untouchable billionaire in America. What the committee was asking for is Crow’s records, not Thomas’, as Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin pointed out. “Mr. Crow’s letter relies on a separation of powers defense when Mr. Crow does not work, and has never worked, for the Supreme Court.”

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It’s similar to the argument that Crow’s lawyers made to Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Finance Committee, when he requested records disclosing all the expensive things Crow has bestowed upon Thomas and Crow’s reporting of these gifts for tax purposes, which the committee oversees. Bopp responded to Wyden with a refusal and claim that the Finance Committee doesn’t have the right to ask for that information, writing that the “Committee must have a legitimate legislative purpose for any inquiry, and the scope of the inquiry must be reasonably related to that purpose.”

Wyden slammed back, assuring Crow’s attorney that his “claim is without merit” and “ignores the Committee’s extensive history considering legislation on matters related to the gift tax, which is a backstop to both our nation’s income and estate tax regimes.” He demanded the information again, and in a statement said it was possible that the committee would have to “follow another route to compel his answers, and I’m prepared to make that happen.” In other words: a subpoena.

Durbin suggested he would consider that route as well, now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has returned from her illness and Democrats have a majority vote on the committee again, with the power to issue subpoenas. “The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order,” Durbin said.

Crow clearly believes he’s not answerable to anyone, and by extension, neither should Thomas be. It’s the premise Chief Justice John Roberts has also adopted with his absolute refusal to appear before the committee to talk about the massive lapses in ethics that have come to light recently. They’re all taking the “Supreme” part of the title way too literally.

Crow insists that he’s a “private person,” “just an old guy” with a penchant for collecting Supreme Court justices to go along with his Nazi memorabilia and statues of dictators. The fact that he’s poured tons of money into right-wing causes, and recruited other millionaires and billionaires to the cause of turning the Supreme Court into the hyperpartisan political entity it is doesn’t mean that he’s not acting with the purest of motives when it comes to his friendship with Thomas.

That seems to be the prevailing attitude on the court, and that’s a massive problem for the nation when public confidence in the highest court has plunged to the lowest level in decades, in multiple surveys. Notably, most were conducted before all the revelations of Thomas’ extremely generous and secretive friend.

It is objectively dangerous for the court to be considered illegitimate by the people. It’s even more dangerous to have the court behave so badly. The government as a whole is resting on what’s a pretty flimsy piece of parchment, after all. It continues to exist as a democracy only as long as we all agree that it should. Or as long as every official who took an oath to the Constitution abides by that commitment.

The current majority on the court isn’t doing that. They won’t do that. They won’t even talk to Congress about whether or not they should be living by the most basic of ethics rules. That has to be fixed, and it has to be done by Congress and the White House. The only way to deal with the problem quickly is to expand the court. After that, further reforms can be examined, but right now, it’s the best way.


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Hell yeah! Democrats and progressives simply crushed it from coast to coast on Tuesday night, so co-hosts David Nir and David Beard are devoting this week's entire episode of "The Downballot" to reveling in all the highlights. At the very top of the list is Jacksonville, where Democrats won the mayor's race for just the second time in three decades—and gave the Florida Democratic Party a much-needed shot in the arm. Republicans also lost the mayor's office in the longtime conservative bastion of Colorado Springs for the first time since the city began holding direct elections for the job 45 years ago.

‘Red flags’ were raised over Clarence Thomas disclosures going back to 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been thumbing his nose at his colleagues, the Senate, and the nation since at least 2011. Back then, watchdogs discovered he had not disclosed household income from his wife, Ginni Thomas—at least five years’ worth of income from her partisan political work the Heritage Foundation and the Tea Party astroturf group she founded. Thomas belatedly filed 20 years’ worth of amended disclosure forms, and then did not change his nondisclosing ways.

There aren’t many ethics rules Supreme Court justices have to observe, but there is a federal law they are bound by: the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. That law applies to the chief justice of the Supreme Court and all the associate justices, along with most other high-level government officials and employees and, in some cases, the spouses and dependent children of those officials, too. Thomas has not abided by that law and has not done so for years.

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf “raised red flags” over the review conducted under the auspices of the Judicial Conference of the United States, Bloomberg News reports based on newly disclosed information. Wolf “repeatedly expressed concern” that the committee assigned to investigate Thomas didn’t disclose its findings and actions to leaders of the conference, the federal judiciary’s policymaking body. The committee independently determined that Thomas had not “willfully” failed to comply, and that his omission of 20 years’ worth of household income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars was a “routine” matter.

Wolf raised enough hell about having been kept in the dark on the matter that the conference did adopt a small change: The committee that looks into disclosure problems has to report to the full conference about them. What the Judicial Conference—comprising the Supreme Court chief, the chiefs of all the judicial circuits, and a district judge from each regional circuit—decides to do with the information is up to them.

Since well before 2011, Thomas has been in the pocket of Texas billionaire Harlan Crow and failed to disclose everything from that relationship including expensive gifts, luxurious travel, profitable real estate deals, and private school tuition for the nephew he was raising as a son. Thomas kept on not disclosing, which is all the evidence needed to surmise that what the Judicial Conference headed up by Chief Justice John Roberts decided to do about it was nothing.

That’s not to say Thomas and pals learned nothing from the experience. His friend Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society founder and dark money maven who has reshaped the federal judiciary, learned that it was better to leave Ginni’s name off of payments for her extreme partisan work. “No mention of Ginni, of course,” Leo instructed when he was arranging for her payment through a third party. If her name isn’t on any of the paperwork, then what would her husband have to disclose?

It’s not just financial disclosures, by the way, where Thomas has failed in any semblance of ethical behavior. He never recused himself from any of the cases before the court that involved Ginni’s political activities. He has recused in other cases involving his son and his employers, so it’s not a matter of Thomas misunderstanding what’s supposed to be done. Thomas is holding himself above those requirements.

He’ll continue to do so as long as Roberts—along with the rest of the court—looks the other way. That’s exactly what Roberts intends to do. He made that clear via his refusal to even talk to Congress about ethics in the court. Because he can get away with it, Thomas will remain defiant, continue to decide cases he shouldn’t be active on, and will probably continue to enjoy the largesse Crow has on offer.

He won’t resign, and as long as the House is in Republican control (and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell draws breath in the Senate) Thomas can’t be impeached, even while he’s a textbook case for impeachment.

Thomas and the whole court are declaring themselves above the law. The only recourse Democrats have in this situation is political. They’ve got to keep Thomas’ corruption—enabled by Republicans—in focus. Democrats must keep having hearings about court reform, they must keep investigating those gifts, and they must keep talking about how every extreme, unpopular partisan decision is brought to you by Republicans.


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Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.

Watch AOC let loose on Clarence Thomas on ‘The Daily Show’

This week, longtime “The Daily Show” correspondent Jordan Klepper is taking his turn in the guest host seat. He kicked the week off with a bang, scoring an interview with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her home turf of New York City.

And while the interview began as a conversation about violence and social services in America, it ended up touching on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ ethics failures, the fight for reproductive rights, and Donald Trump being the only person who is crying for Donald Trump.

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After Klepper joked about a theoretical Beyonce Knowles collecting Third Reich memorabilia, Ocasio-Cortez brought the interview back on track and succinctly drilled down to the bottom line:

“Supreme Court justices are required, if they are receiving money from people—they shouldn't even be receiving money from people. This is why we pay salaries to public servants. And if they want to live that kind of lifestyle, then they can resign from the court. They can retire.

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Before Klepper ended the interview, he brought up the orange elephant in the room. Did Ocasio-Cortez think people “were crying,” as Trump claimed, during his recent arraignment on charges of falsifying business records?

“Maybe George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene were, but not me,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She went on to say that Trump’s indictment is a symbol of the deep inequalities in our justice system, as she watches “people get treated far worse for doing far less” than Trump. “If you hurt one person, you get ten years in prison. But if you hurt millions of people, you get your name on a building.”

You can watch the whole interview below, as well as read a transcript of the interview.


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Jordan Klepper: I considered going into the medical profession. I thought I could play a handsome doctor on TV. Didn't pan out. While we were on the subject of national embarrassment, I had to ask the congresswoman about Clarence Thomas and his BFF Nazi, swag collector, Harlan Crow. I want to talk a little bit about Clarence Thomas. You've said you would even draft articles of impeachment for the things that he's done. Has there been any quid pro quo? And I said quid pro quo, partially because it took all that effort to learn what quid pro quo meant back in the Ukraine days, and it feels apropos of now. And I don't think I used apropos correctly.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I think that quid pro quo is this bar that doesn't even need to be met. The justice is required by law to disclose something like that. And he hasn't been.

Jordan Klepper: Can you empathize, though? If Beyoncé came through here, wanted to take you on a sweet vacation, wouldn't you say, “Yes.” And let her show you her Nazi memorabilia.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Tell someone about it. But hey, don't! Don't put Bey's name on that.

Jordan Klepper: I'm not saying she has. I'm saying if she invested in Nazi memorabilia to show that she hates Nazi memorabilia, she'd want to show it off.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: And that whole thing is just, I mean, bizarre. You also don't keep the linens around …

Jordan Klepper:--All the Nazi linens?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Yeah. Who does that?

Jordan Klepper: Don't you think if you had $1,000,000,000 and you bought everything, you'd probably eventually get to Nazi linens?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: This is the distraction of that whole issue.

Jordan Klepper: You're right. We're just focused on that as opposed to all the money that's going over to Clarence Thomas. Although if you're a billionaire, can't billionaires have friends?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: They can. Supreme Court justices are required, if they are receiving money from people—they shouldn't even be receiving money from people. This is why we pay salaries to public servants. And if they want to live that kind of lifestyle, then they can resign from the court. They can retire.

Jordan Klepper: Now I want to talk about the court. It's looking as if the Supreme Court is going to rule on some of the conflicting rulings around mifepristone. Who do you think is going to write the final decision that takes away these vital rights from women? Is it going to be the guy who cried over beer or was it going to be the buddy with the Nazi memorabilia guy?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: You know, my hope is that they—we do not get to that point. But we also have to face the reality that the Supreme Court has chosen to give up huge swaths of their own legitimacy. Chief Justice Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, the Republican Party: In them giving up trying to take seriously the legitimacy, the standards, the integrity of the court, they have given up a very large degree of their authority.

Jordan Klepper: The new news in Florida this week is the six-week abortion ban. How do women approach that or fight back against something like that that's happening in Florida?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Of course, there's the standard, like, vote and mobilize. But I'm going to put that aside for a second. We do not have to accept tyranny, and this is a form of tyranny. It is a form of violence. Women will die. People will die because of this decision. And it will be, by and large, the men who signed these laws that are killing the women that will die by them.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: And we have a responsibility to help one another, whether that is supporting organizations that mail mifepristone, which has significantly reduced risk, certainly safer than medications like Viagra. But ultimately, we cannot continue to accept people in power who will abuse others for their own gain.

Jordan Klepper: Indictment week was last week. It might also be a month from now, too. We could have a lot of indictment weeks. How do you think New Yorkers treated former President Donald Trump?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I think they treated him like a Florida man. He don't belong to us no mo’, okay? You're not from Queens anymore. He's a citizen of Mar-a-Lago at this point.

Jordan Klepper: And you said New Yorkers treated him as such?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Yeah. Why wouldn't we?

Jordan Klepper: Do you think people were weeping when he was booked, as he claims?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Maybe George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene were, but not me. Take it back to LaGuardia.

Jordan Klepper: Take it back to LaGuardia, which is in your district?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Yes, it's in my district. And so is Rikers. And so we have, I have to go in every single day watching people get treated far worse for doing far less and then, you know, it's like this red carpet that gets rolled out. I mean, if you hurt one person, you get ten years in prison. But if you hurt millions of people, you get your name on a building.

Jordan Klepper: Congresswoman, thanks for talking with us.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Thanks for having me.

On today’s episode, Markos and Kerry are joined by a friend of the podcast, Democratic political strategist Simon Rosenberg. Rosenberg was one of the few outsiders who, like Daily Kos, kept telling the world that nothing supported the idea of a red wave. Simon and the crew break down his strategy for Democratic candidates to achieve a 55% popular vote in all elections—a number that a few years ago would have seemed unattainable, but now feels within reach.

Fox News Bud Light advertising far more important than Clarence Thomas’ ethics

At the end of March, ProPublica released findings of an investigation that highlighted the financially swampy relationship between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Texas billionaire, conservative donor, and Nazi artifact collector Harlan Crow. Reports came out showing that not only did Justice Thomas spend an inordinate amount of time with the billionaire—after becoming a Supreme Court Justice—he received possibly millions of dollars in gifts and free travel and lodging for about two decades. 

On top of that, reports came out showing Crow’s generosity toward Justice Thomas included buying up two vacant lots where Thomas’s elderly mother lived, as well as sending $500,000 to “a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas, which also paid her a $120,000 salary.” Clarence Thomas has released an unbelievably weak statement defending the allegations against him, while not denying any of the details in the stories.

It’s the kind of story that, even in passing, anyone would consider to be newsworthy. Polls show that even conservatives agree that the reports about Thomas’ gift and vacation-receiving ways are unethical.

How is the right-wing ministry of propaganda, Fox News, handling the story? What story? Have you not heard that Bud Light did a single online social media advertisement with a trans celebrity?

RELATED STORY: Clarence Thomas allegedly broke one of the few ethics laws that apply to the Supreme Court

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The Washington Post’s Philip Bump analyzed how traditional media outlets like MSNBC, C-SPAN, CNN, and Fox News were covering the news. It turns out that in the case of Fox News, they aren’t covering it all that much. Over a ten-day period after the news broke, Fox News has mentioned Thomas’ name in less than 50 segments, all less than 15 seconds long, according to The Washington Post.

To put this into perspective, over that same period, MSNBC has mentioned Thomas almost 500 times. As for the name Harlan Crow? Fox News has almost never mentioned his name. Here are the ways in which Fox News has framed the myriad stories about gifts, vacations, plots of land, and business start-up monies from Crow to Thomas:

  • April 6: “Clarence Thomas report spurs new calls from Democrats for Supreme Court code of ethics”

  • April 6: “Progressive Democrats call for Clarence Thomas impeachment after reported undisclosed gifts from GOP megadonor”

  • April 7: “Justice Thomas defends trips taken with ‘dearest friends’ after reports say he accepted gifts”

  • April 8: “Democrats press Supreme Court chief justice to investigate Clarence Thomas’ trips with GOP megadonor”

  • April 9: “Report on Clarence Thomas’ travel habits is ‘politics plain and simple’: expert”

  • April 10: “AOC doubles down on ‘ignoring’ abortion rule, Clarence Thomas impeachment: ‘abuse of judicial overreach’”

  • April 10: “Senate Democrats demand Chief Justice Roberts open investigation into Clarence Thomas over ‘misconduct’”

But if Fox News is barely mentioning the Supreme Court story, and talking all the way around the various Donald Trump legal indictments and trials and potential indictments, what are they talking about? According to the analysis, Bud Light. The beer. You see, Bud Light signed a sponsorship deal with internet celebrity Dylan Mulvaney. The deal seems to have included Mulvaney making sure to create product placement social media posts.

Mulvaney’s sponsorship deal led to former celebrities like Kid Rock to start shooting Bud Light cans with guns in protest. Fox News covered that more than 183 times. This coming from the network that spends a considerable amount of of resources trying to torture conspiratorial connections between billionaire Democratic donor George Soros and … everything happening that they don’t like.

Between Clarence and his Big Lying wife, Ginni, these two radical right wing activists have secured their spot in the annals of history under fascism.


Clarence Thomas’ lavish vacation getaways are so corrupt, even Republicans think they're bogus

Supreme Court Justice Thomas' Republican donor buddy also collects Nazi trinkets

Reporting on lavish trips struck a nerve: Clarence Thomas issues defensive statement

New emails show Ginni Thomas trying to get Arizona officials to overturn the election

Murdoch's Fox News empire has launched an all-out war against the makers of Bud Light

On today’s episode, Markos and Kerry are joined by a friend of the podcast, Democratic political strategist Simon Rosenberg. Rosenberg was one of the few outsiders who, like Daily Kos, kept telling the world that nothing supported the idea of a red wave. Simon and the crew break down his strategy for Democratic candidates to achieve a 55% popular vote in all elections—a number that a few years ago would have seemed unattainable, but now feels within reach.

The Supreme Court is now in the middle of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Congress needs to respond

The Jan. 6 committee is reportedly preparing to call Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas to talk about just how deeply involved she was in the effort to help Donald Trump have a coup. Thomas told the Daily Caller, “I look forward to talking to them,” and that she wants to “clear up misconceptions.” Okay then.

The committee now says she’s going to get that opportunity. That’s one step closer to Congress taking seriously the threat that Thomas and her spouse, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, pose to the republic.

report in The New York Times Thursday combined with The Washington Post story put Ginni Thomas in the thick of John Eastman’s coup-plotting. There are emails between the two. There’s Eastman telling a pro-Trump lawyer and Trump campaign officials that he was aware of a “heated fight” within the Supreme Court: “For those willing to do their duty, we should help them by giving them a Wisconsin cert petition to add into the mix.”

RELATED STORY:  Trump attorneys claimed Supreme Court justices were considering joining scheme to overturn election

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Now, that could be Eastman lying about the situation in order to keep the team fighting for Trump or from some other reason—that’s law professor Steve Vladek’s interpretation. Or it could have been Ginni working Eastman up with tales from the inside to keep him happy.

Regardless, it is the spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice in the thick of a coup attempt. We don’t know where Clarence Thomas is in all this. We do know that he was the lone justice who wanted to keep the White House records around Jan. 6 away from the committee. Maybe now we have new information as to why he wanted that.

What we also know now, thanks to Thursday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, is that Eastman (who was a Thomas clerk back in the day) knew that what he was promoting was illegal and told Trump so on Jan. 4, two days before the insurrection.

Eastman knew what he was pushing—with help from Ginni Thomas—was illegal. Following that to its logical conclusion, with the revelations of the last 24 hours, how does the committee not subpoena Ginni Thomas?

Furthermore, how do President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer not demand that Clarence Thomas resign? How do the House and Senate Judiciary Committees not turn their attention to Clarence Thomas and investigating just what Clarence and Ginni Thomas were cooking up together?

Here’s what retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a true conservative hero who was on George W. Bush’s short list for the Supreme Court, said: ”Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy. [...] I don’t speak those words lightly.”

Those allies and supporters include Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. The danger is coming from the highest court in the land and Congress has to deal with that. It’s time to begin the investigations leading to an impeachment of Clarence Thomas. No, this Senate would not convict with 50 Republicans, but after the work of the Jan. 6 committee and all of these revelations, they need to be forced to vote to protect him. They need to be making the case against Clarence Thomas, and then they need to start real work of reforming and expanding the Supreme Court.


2020 was an election theft dry run for Republicans. Next time, they could succeed

Every election starting now and into the foreseeable future is going to be the most important election of our lifetime. Until the Republican Party as we currently know it is ground to dust, scorched, and the earth on which it stands is salted, the threat of white nationalistic fascism will remain. Right now, in 2022, Republicans are running explicitly on undermining representative democracy, from the smallest local positions up through the state legislatures and all the way to Congress. They are converging behind the Big Lie and promising that they are going to fix it so that they don’t lose any more elections. So that Donald Trump (or his stand-in) will take the 2024 election.

They’re not even trying to be subtle about it—it’s explicit in so many campaigns for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in plenty of battlegrounds, including the states that Trump tried to contest in 2020.

“What we’re seeing right now is unprecedented,” Joanna Lydgate, co-founder and CEO of States United Action, told CNN’s Rod Brownstein. “To see candidates running on a platform of lies and conspiracy theories about our elections as a campaign position, to see a former President getting involved in endorsing in down-ballot races at the primary level, and certainly to see this kind of systemic attacks on our elections, this spreading of disinformation about our elections—we’ve never seen anything like this before as a country.”

RELATED STORY: Republican state legislators are laying the groundwork to overturn the next election

Brownstein reports on a study released last week—commissioned by the groups States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward—which determined that 13 states have already approved laws to make sure there will be partisan control over election administration, laws to intimidate election administrators, and laws requiring audits of the 2020 election, as if that is a thing. That’s beyond the orgy they’ve been having for the past decade with voter suppression laws, which hasn’t ended either. Thirty-three states have another 229 bills related to denying the results of the last election, and to limiting the electorate and predetermining the outcome of future elections.

“Taken separately, each of these bills would chip away at the system of free and fair elections that Americans have sustained, and worked to improve, for generations,” the groups concluded. “Taken together, they could lead to an election in which the voters’ choices are disregarded and the election sabotaged.”

“In the leadup to the 2020 election, those who warned of a potential crisis were dismissed as alarmists by far too many Americans who should have seen the writing on the wall,” Jessica Marsden, counsel at Protect Democracy, told Brownstein in an email. “Almost two years later, after an attempted coup and a violent insurrection on our Capitol, election conspiracy theorists—including those who actually participated in January 6—are being nominated by the GOP to hold the most consequential offices for overseeing the 2024 election.”

“It’s all connected,” Lydgate said. “The playbook is to try to change the rules and change the referees, so you can change the results.”

They’ve got a very powerful referee on their side in the form of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

A casual observer might reasonably conclude that Ginni and Clarence Thomas are working in tandem to lay the groundwork for the next coup—with Ginni taking up the politics and Clarence handling the legal side. The symmetry between their work is remarkable.

— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 23, 2022

Thomas won’t recuse himself from any of these cases, and as of now, a Democratic Congress doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to force him to via the threat of investigation and impeachment.

“What’s past is prologue, and what was done sloppily in 2020 is being mapped out by experts for 2024,” Slate’s Stern and Dahlia Lithwick write. “It didn’t work in 2020 because the legal and political structures to support it weren’t in place at the time. Those pieces are being put into place as we type this.” That’s the story Brownstein is also trying to get to Democrats and the rest of the traditional media—anyone who will listen and can do something about it.

There are answers. There are ways to fix this. They start with electing enough Democrats to state offices to make sure the damage the fascists can do is limited. We can also elect enough Democrats to the House and to the Senate to make the two Republican-friendly, obstructionist Democratic senators irrelevant.

Then it’ll be a matter of convincing that Democratic majority and a Democratic president that none of this is blogger hysteria, but a very real threat to our freedoms that has everybody else’s hair on fire. Saving our representative democracy means expanding and reforming the court.


Clarence and Ginni Thomas take center stage at House hearing on Supreme Court ethics

The federal judiciary is on tap for the House Wednesday—specifically, the topic of reforming the federal judiciary. The House has a raft of suspension bills (legislation that doesn’t require the regular rules process on the floor) it will run through, including the bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which the Senate already passed in February. While that’s happening, the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts will hold a hearing on Supreme Court ethics, or lack thereof.

That’s the juicy part of the day, with lawmakers spurred on by the disclosure of Ginni Thomas’ text messages showing the depth of her involvement in trying to promote a coup. As the spouse of a wildly partisan political activist, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the very least should have recused from any cases related to the 2020 election and Donald Trump. Which of course he did not. This hearing will examine the lack of Supreme Court ethics and Congress’ role in dealing with that, including impeachment.

A memo obtained by The Hill from subcommittee chair Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and sent to members ahead of the hearing outlines the existing codes of conduct that apply to other federal judges and summarizes legislative proposals that would extend the code to Supreme Court justices. As of right now, they’re exempt from it and are expected to discipline themselves—which, in Thomas’ case, doesn’t happen. The memo also outlines Congress’ impeachment authority as one of the tools at their disposal.

“Threats or inquiries of impeachment as a means of regulating the conduct of Supreme Court justices have had varying effects,” the memo said. Just one justice in the nation’s history has been impeached by the House, Samuel Chase in 1804. He was not convicted by the Senate. In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned over an impeachment threat. The current crop of Republican justices pretty much thumb their nose at the idea of ethics, in contrast to the newest justice-designate, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has preemptively recused herself from an affirmative action case before she’s even been officially seated on the court.

Markos and Kerry talk Ukraine and speak with Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler on how hitting back at Republicans helps win elections

The memo makes it clear that this hearing is about the Thomases and the increasing calls for action  “following the reporting about text messages between the spouse of an associate justice and the then-White House Chief of Staff.”

“The Supreme Court has long operated as though it were above the law. But, Justice Clarence Thomas’ refusal to recuse himself from cases surrounding January 6th, despite his wife’s involvement, raises serious ethical—and legal—alarm bells,” vice chair of the subcommittee Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), said ahead of the hearing. “The need for strong, enforceable ethics laws is clearer than ever. We have to do more to hold the Court accountable and restore public trust through a binding code of ethics and recusal.”

“Recent reports that the text messages of a justice’s spouse urging the overturning of a free and fair election may have been at issue in a case in front the Supreme Court—but that the justice did not recuse himself from the case—is just the latest and particularly egregious example in an unfortunately long list of illustrations as to why Supreme Court justices need to follow a formal code of ethics,” Johnson told The Hill. “I have been calling for this sort of reform for years, and I am encouraged to see a large, bipartisan majority of the public in favor of this long overdue legislation.”

Republicans, and particularly Senate Republicans, are unlikely to agree because it’s their justices behaving badly. It is, however, important for Democrats to keep pushing that point and to keep up the drumbeat for reform. The threat of some kind of action from Congress—a SCOTUS code of ethics, court expansion, impeachment—is at this point the only leverage that exists against the rogue Supreme Court majority.

The legislation they will pass Wednesday (a slightly different version passed 422-4 in December) will help some toward that effort. It also demonstrates that even the most hardcore partisan Republicans—in this case the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn—recognize that there has to be at least the gloss of accountability for the Supreme Court. The bill toughens financial disclosure requirements for federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. They will have to make financial holdings and stock trades publicly available online, in the interest of disclosing conflicts of interest that would warrant judges recusing themselves from related cases.

As it currently stands, the parties involved in a case can request to see the judge’s financial disclosures, as can members of the public, but the judges themselves get to decide how much information they release and when. They have sole discretion in redacting information and can take all the time they want to fulfill requests.

The legislation is a result of a report last fall in the Wall Street Journal that found more than 130 judges broke the law by hearing cases in which they had a financial interest instead of recusing themselves. The Journal found 685 lawsuits that were decided by judges with a financial stake, with the potential fallout of hundreds of cases being overruled.

When the Journal alerted the judges to these violations, “56 of the judges […] directed court clerks to notify parties in 329 lawsuits that they should have recused themselves. That means new judges might be assigned, potentially upending rulings.” Most of the judges gave lame excuses or played dumb. “I had no idea that I had an interest in any of these companies in what was a most modest retirement account,” said Judge Timothy Batten Sr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, who owned JPMorgan Chase stock and ruled favorably for the bank in several cases.

Under this legislation, everyone in the judiciary branch will have to follow disclosure requirements like those that apply to lawmakers, reporting within 45 days all stock trades of more than $1,000. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will have to create an online database, searchable and publicly accessible, of judicial financial disclosure forms and will have to get those forms into the database within 90 days from when they’re filed. The new law will apply to Supreme Court justices as well as federal appellate, district court, bankruptcy, and magistrate judges. The database has to be online within six months of President Joe Biden signing the bill.