February 01,2024

Wyden Statement on Clarence Thomas’s Forgiven Quarter-Million Dollar RV Loan

Watch a video of Wyden’s Senate Floor remarks here

As Prepared for Delivery

I come to the floor today to talk about something every American wants from their public officials: transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, after repeated attempts, Congress has not received transparency or accountability from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently, and it is feeding the perception of corruption.

For the past six months, the Senate Finance Committee has been trying to get straight answers from the Justice and his wealthy friends about the growing list of handouts they’ve lavished on the Justice. 

Most recently, we’ve sought to figure out whether Justice Thomas secretly had over two hundred fifty thousand dollars in debt written off — simply wiped away — by a wealthy benefactor. If so, as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am working to learn whether he paid the taxes he was supposed to — taxes that any American is legally required to pay. Justice Thomas refuses to respond. 

The Justice acts as if the freebies and special favors Americans are reading about — comped flights on private jets and trips on luxury yachts, mega-wealthy individuals paying for school tuition, quarter-million dollar debts wiped away — is totally normal stuff. 

The reality is, it is not. It isn’t normal for anybody. And when the person receiving all these extravagant handouts is one of the nine most powerful jurists in the country — with unchecked power to rewrite laws from the bench — it looks a lot worse. 

With respect to this disappearing debt, here is what we know. In 1999, one of Justice Thomas’s friends loaned him $267,230 dollars to buy a luxury RV. That’s some kind of friend.

Justice Thomas wants us to believe the story is simple, like the couple hundred bucks you’d loan somebody to get their car fixed in an emergency. The Justice’s story obscures the truth. The simple fact is, loans have to be repaid, and it sure looks like this one wasn’t.

According to the terms of the loan agreement, which by the way was written down on Supreme Court stationery from the “Chambers of Clarence Thomas,” Thomas’ friend supplied the money to buy Thomas the luxury RV.  

In return, Justice Thomas was supposed to pay 7.5 percent interest for five years. Then the loan would come due, and Justice Thomas would be responsive to repay the full principal. But from what I’ve seen, that payment never happened.

Through my investigation I’ve uncovered that Justice Thomas only paid interest on the transaction. When the deadline hit after five years, his friend “extended” the maturity date on the loan for another decade. 

But just four years later, Thomas’s friend simply decided to stop collecting payments from the Justice, even though Thomas still owed him more than a quarter million dollars.

Thomas’s friend wrote a note telling him that the interest he had paid was good enough, and he would not accept further payments. This means the debt, likely the entire $267,000 principle, was considered forgiven. Again, that’s quite a friend.

So, the documents we’ve seen indicate Justice Thomas received a $267,000 loan to buy a luxury RV and never repaid most— and likely not even a dollar —of the money that his friend originally loaned him. This has legal consequences.  

The tax code makes clear that in instances where debt is canceled, forgiven, or discharged for less than the amount owed, the borrower must report the amount canceled or forgiven as income for tax purposes. Furthermore, forgiven debt is income that Justice Thomas is required by law to report on his Financial Disclosure Report.

But Justice Thomas never reported a quarter-million in forgiven debt on his Financial Disclosure Report in 2008, the year his debt was forgiven. He won’t give the Finance Committee a direct answer on whether he reported it on his taxes, raising serious legal concerns.

After I publicly revealed these findings, Justice Thomas, through his lawyer, said the documents I reviewed were untrue. Thomas said —and I’m quoting here— “the loan was never forgiven. Any suggestion to the contrary is false” and “the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full.” This contradicts the documents I reviewed, so, along with Sen. Whitehouse, we wrote to Justice Thomas’ lawyer and  gave him a chance to prove his claim.

Personally I believe that a sitting Supreme Court Justice would jump at the opportunity to correct the record and prove that he paid his debts and did not cheat on his taxes. I wish I could report to the American people that he did, and that this whole mess was just a misunderstanding. But that didn’t happen.

Justice Thomas did not give us any documentation about this supposed “loan.” Senator Whitehouse and I gave him a month to respond, and received nothing. No loan agreement, no payment schedule, no evidence of principal payments, and no explanation for why he and his lawyer said the documents and information I uncovered were untrue.

If what Justice Thomas and his lawyer are saying about the loan is accurate, what’s behind all the stonewalling? Does the Justice believe that he shouldn’t ever have to answer any questions about all these major windfalls and luxury travel? Not even to prove everything was on the level? 

Justice Thomas and his lawyers could put this whole affair to rest by providing copies of checks repaying this quarter-million dollar loan. My guess is they can’t, because those payments never happened.

If a wealthy friend forgave a quarter-million dollar loan to Justice Thomas, the law requires he declare it. 

As Chairman of the Finance Committee, it’s essential that Justice Thomas list that income on his taxes. He’s also required to disclose the money on his Financial Disclosure Report. Based on what we’ve seen it seems like he did neither. Our laws, including our tax laws, must apply equally to everyone, especially one of the nine most powerful jurists in America. Congress must ensure they do.  

It’s time for Justice Thomas to respond with the facts about this quarter-million dollar loan and any similar money and gifts that he has received as a Supreme Court Justice. 


The response sent to the Finance Committee by an attorney for Justice Thomas is available here.