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'Washington Post': Justice Thomas claimed income from a defunct real estate firm

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This morning, we're following another development involving U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his finances. The Washington Post reports Thomas indicated for years that his family received rental income from a real estate company that no longer exists. Investigative reporter Emma Brown co-authored the story and joins me now. Good morning, Emma.

EMMA BROWN: Good morning.

FADEL: If you could just start by walking us through what you uncovered.

BROWN: Sure. Decades ago, Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas - her family in Nebraska established a real estate company called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership. And it was a land leasing company, traced its roots to a couple of lakeside developments outside Omaha. Clarence Thomas has, since 1990, when he was first nominated to join the federal bench, reported annual income from that company on his financial disclosure forms. But the company ceased to exist in 2006, and the family's holdings were transferred to a similarly named company, Ginger Holdings, LLC. So he - but he has continued to report this income as coming from the company that no longer exists. And in recent years, that income has been between 50,000 and $100,000 a year.

FADEL: Have you gotten a response from Justice Thomas about why this happened?

BROWN: We have not gotten a comment from him, nor his wife. And, you know, it could very well be just a paperwork issue. But taken together with other errors and omissions on his financial disclosure forms over the years, it's part of a pattern that has raised questions about how seriously he views his responsibility to accurately report details of his finances to the public.

FADEL: Now, your story comes after revelations in a ProPublica investigation about Thomas's disclosure history. That report revealed that a Texas billionaire took him on lavish vacations. What does this mean when it comes to trust in Thomas and the Supreme Court?

BROWN: Yeah, the two recent ProPublica stories have landed as bombshells, for sure, but there have been other instances over the years of errors or omissions on his forms. So, for example, his wife, Ginni Thomas, worked at the Heritage Foundation for several years in the mid-2000s and earned close to $700,000. But he reported during those years that she had no income from employment and at the time said it was a misunderstanding of the filing instructions. And there have been other instances like that - that, you know, we talked to an ethics expert from New York University, Stephen Gillers, who said Thomas's assurances and promises cannot be trusted at this point, and he should be investigated.

FADEL: So taken together, how many things could be simple mistakes, I think, is what he's saying, right?

BROWN: Yeah, he's just saying at this point, we should - you know, he's actually - as we reported in our story, believes that all three branches of government should investigate just because Americans' trust in the Supreme Court is at a low right now. And it is important for Americans to be able to trust it. It's a critical institution in our republic.

FADEL: Washington Post reporter Emma Brown, thank you so much for your time.

BROWN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN GAUFFIN'S "FOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.