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Clarence Thomas loan for luxury RV was forgiven, Senate Democrats say

Washington — Most of a $267,000 loan that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas received from a wealthy friend to buy a luxury RV may have been forgiven, according to Senate Democrats. 

In 2008, nine years after Thomas' friend Anthony Welters lent him money to purchase a motorhome, the health care executive forgave the balance of the loan, according to a report from Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee. 

"While additional documents pertaining to the loan agreement may exist, documents reviewed by Democratic staff suggest that Justice Thomas did not repay a significant portion of the loan principal," the report said. 

The allegation comes as Thomas remains under scrutiny for his failure to disclose gifts and luxury trips that he accepted from Republican donor Harlan Crow and amid debate over whether the Supreme Court should adopt an ethics code. 

Democrats launched their inquiry after the New York Times reported the loan's existence in August. 

When Thomas borrowed the money in 1999, he agreed to pay 7.5% interest a year and fully repay the loan within five years, the Senate report says, citing information and documents voluntarily provided by Welters. In 2004, the loan repayment period was extended another 10 years. 

But Welters forgave the balance of the loan in 2008 "in recognition of the payments made by Thomas which Welters characterized as interest only payments that exceeded the amount of the original loan," the report said. 

Welters told Thomas in a handwritten note that he "did not feel it was appropriate to continue to accept payments even though he had the right to them," according to the report. 

The report said Welters provided only one receipt of payment, which showed that Thomas paid him $20,042 in 2000 — the amount of one yearly interest payment. 

Nine years of interest payments would have totaled about $180,400. 

The committee said it was not given additional documents that could offer more clarity on the agreement. 

"None of the documents reviewed by committee staff indicated that Thomas ever made payments to Welters in excess of the annual interest on the loan," it said. 

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon said the committee wants answers from Thomas, but said he hasn't made a decision about whether to subpoena the Supreme Court justice. 

"What we need to know is Justice Thomas' justification for this," Wyden said Wednesday. "Why wouldn't he put this on ethics forms? What has he done with respect to tax laws? Has he paid taxes on this?"

Jack Turman contributed reporting. 

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