This crow probably won’t fly to Washington, D.C.

Texas billionaire Harlan Crowe, a conservative real estate tycoon known for giving lavish gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family, said he would not cooperate if a Senate subpoena was issued, Bloomberg News.

While no subpoenas have yet been issued, the brewing confrontation tests the ability of the politically divided Senate to use one of its most powerful investigative tools and underscores the challenges Congress faces in obtaining information.

Crowe’s stance is similar to Donald Trump’s ally’s refusal to provide information to a House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Those subpoenas led to numerous court battles, but were eventually withdrawn.

Likewise, Crow has repeatedly rejected requests from the Democratic chairmen of two Senate committees to provide details about gifts and deals that benefit Justice Thomas, claiming that they are not a matter for Congress. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse argued that a subpoena would be possible in both cases.

So far, Crowe’s lawyers have been dismissive of the committee’s response. The possibility of a subpoena has loomed over recent testimony, including from the chief executives of Starbucks, Norfolk Southern and Silicon Valley Bank.

However, he was emboldened by the partisan nature of the controversy surrounding Crowe’s gift and the frequent use of the filibuster to block Senate action, according to the outlet.

If Crow does not comply with the committee’s subpoena, the Senate will need to vote to take him to court, an unprecedented move for filibustering.

Failure to enforce the subpoenas could undermine the ability of Senate committees to expose private sector abuses and hold reluctant corporate executives accountable in public.

The committee still wields some leverage because the chairman can ask the Justice Department to prosecute individuals in contempt of court for ignoring subpoenas. However, the process is inefficient, and the department often refuses to pursue such cases.

Leaders of the committee investigating Crowe’s gift are still considering their options. While Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are likely to support issuing the subpoena, Chairman Dick Durbin emphasized the need for a deliberate and orderly approach. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden is in productive discussions with other Democrats about next steps, including the possibility of a subpoena.

Crow’s relationship with Justice Thomas has come under scrutiny because reports of luxury travel and real estate deals were not disclosed in Thomas’ annual financial report.

Trips include aboard a Bombardier Global 5000 private jet or a 162-foot superyacht; to Bohemian Grove, Indonesia’s volcanic islands, or private resorts in the Adirondacks, among others.

Crow and his wife’s gift to Thomas “was no different from the hospitality we extend to many other dear friends,” Crow said in a ProPublica article. But ethics experts aren’t so sure.

“It’s beyond my comprehension that someone would do that,” retired federal judge Nancy Gertner told ProPublica.

Crow’s attorneys filed a subpoena request with the committee, and Crow’s legal team contends that the committee has no jurisdiction and no legal legislation requiring the information.

Ted Glazer

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