Lever Time with David Sirota

On this week’s episode of Lever Time, David Sirota and Andrew Perez are joined by ProPublica’s Justin Elliott, who recently co-authored an exposédetailing how Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito failed to disclose luxury gifts provided by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer. 

This story follows ProPublica’s reporting from earlier this year about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who also failed to disclose gifts he received from his own billionaire benefactor, Harlan Crow. 

David, Andrew and Justin discuss how these new revelations raise questions about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, why a lack of judicial oversight contributes to the problem, and how powerful GOP  operative Leonard Leo ties all of these stories together. 

A transcript of this episode is available here.

BONUS: This past Monday's bonus episode of Lever Time Premium, exclusively for The Lever’s supporting subscribers, featured our interview with Brandon Tizol, a New York-based organizer who was part of the campaign that helped pass a transformative renewable energy bill in the state.

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What is Lever Time with David Sirota?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota 0:10
everyone welcome to another episode of lever time the flagship podcast from deliver an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host David Sirota on today's show. We're going to be talking about one of our favorite topics corruption at the Supreme Court. Last week pro publica published another bombshell report, this one detailing how conservative Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito failed to disclose a gift of a private jet flight and luxury fishing vacation, a gift bankrolled by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer whose hedge fund has business at the Supreme Court. For today's interview, I'll be joined again by ProPublica is Justin Elliott, one of the reporters who broke that huge news story about Sam Alito for our paid subscribers. We're also always dropping exclusive bonus episodes into our lever premium podcast feed. This past Monday, we did a deep dive into the campaign that ultimately forced New York to pass a landmark climate bill you love to see it. We spoke with one of the organizers behind the four year campaign to get that bill passed. And we looked at how a small group of organizers manage to make that happen. If you want to access our premium content, head over to lever news.com and click the subscribe button in the top right to become a supporting subscriber. That'll give you access to the lever premium podcast feed exclusive live events and all of the in depth reporting and investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. The only way independent media grows and thrives is because of passionate supporters and by word of mouth. So we need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit that is corporate media. So go subscribe, it directly funds the work that we do just a heads up. The lever will be off all of next week for the holiday week that July 4 week. So there will not be another episode of lever time or a lever time premium podcast episode. But we will be publishing another episode of deconstructed from our friends at the intercept. So look out for that on the feed next Thursday. Today. I'm here with LeBreton. Producer producer Frank. Hey, Frank,

Frank Cappello 2:17
what's going on, David? Feeling actually pretty good. Right now, in this moment, if you want a little bit of relief, we just got one of those big Supreme Court rulings. This one was on the Moore V. Harper case, which was that really scary one with the independent state legislature theory, the one that really could have, you know, up ended American democracy. And miraculously, the the court chose not to endorse that theory. So yeah, feel actually a little bit of relief right now. How are you doing?

David Sirota 2:45
I'm feeling some relief to although I think it's momentary, I think the relief is that the Supreme Court, as you said, the Supreme Court seems to have been successfully bullied into not being at least for the moment as extreme as it usually is. And I think that's actually a good thing. It shows democracy actually working now we're going to be talking today about the Supreme Court, we're gonna be talking about the the corruption at the Supreme Court, which remains a huge issue. I do not feel relieved about that. But we're recording this on Tuesday, June 27. So some of the rulings that have recently come down, seem to show at least a momentary shift in the Supreme Court's ideology. And again, I want to underscore it may only be momentary and it may only be in reaction to public opinion, but a momentary shift when it comes to voting rights. As you mentioned, the the more V. Harper case, it was a case that was designed to completely scramble, voting in the States, it was all about who has the power to regulate voting, and it could have upended centuries of voting standards, voting rights laws, et cetera, et cetera, a few weeks ago. Similarly, in the case Allen V. Milligan, the court voted five to four to strike down Alabama's congressional map for violating the Voting Rights Act for racial gerrymandering. There was also this case, in Louisiana, the Supreme Court lifting its hold on a Louisiana political remap case, which increases the likelihood that the Republican dominated state will now have to redraw boundary lines to create a second mostly black congressional district. So three kinds of rulings on voting rights that lots of people expected to go the opposite way and they rightly expected it to go the opposite way because John Roberts has been a huge and leading opponent of the Voting Rights Act for 25 plus years. So what to make of the shift and that's where I go back to I said that somewhat in jest but to bullying or what you might call the democratic small d democratic process working for the last year since the dobs decision, that one overturning abortion rights in this country. I think the public has become much more aware of the extremism at the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court has finally started to be seen as the political body, the ideological body that it is. And then the revelations about flagrant corruption that has plagued the court, the corruption that we've reported on here about when it comes to billionaires, a bank rolling bankrolling all sorts of lavish gifts for people like Clarence Thomas. Today, we're going to be talking about Sam Alito, I think all of that the public's awareness of how extreme the court is, and how those that extremism affects people in their daily lives. Plus the revelations about grotesque corruption of the court. I think the court, the justices on the court are worried about the total de legitimization of the court now, in my view, the court has been delegitimize and a couple of better rulings don't change that fundamental fact. But I think the court is responding to that. Trying to momentarily tamp down people's anger at the court. polls have shown that public opinion about the Supreme Court is at or near a historic low in terms of trusting the court to be an honest and fair arbiter. And I think the justices are aware of that. I mean, they've Clarence Thomas gave a speech, Amy Barrett gave a speech, John Roberts has has suggested that he's concerned about the public's view of the court and whether the public sees the court as legitimate. I think these momentarily moderate rulings show that the court is responding to public opinion, which is good. I think it's good that when any governmental institution in a so called democracy gets so far out of step with where public opinion is that the public's voice is raised. And I think it's good when the institution responds to that. Now, I want to caveat this by saying, I'm not sure if this is something permanent, or this is something temporary, it may just be, hey, listen, we got to put out a couple of moderate rulings here, get the public to stop paying attention to us. Most of the time, the public doesn't pay attention to the Supreme Court. Let's just get a couple of moderate rulings out here to tamp down people's anger. And then we'll go back to doing our usual right wing business. In the next session, I don't know what it's going to be. But it is to say, keep the pressure on I like you, Frank, I feel at least for the moment, it's a feeling I don't usually get, but for the moment, a temporary sense of relief. Yeah, man,

Frank Cappello 7:52
this has been a very rough couple of years with the Supreme Court and anything that is able to sway them. And maybe you're right, maybe it is just public pressure and bullying, if so good. Because, you know what i Something I realized in this week and talking about the court is the way we talk about these rulings being handed down. I think that choice of language is so specific and accurate, because it really is like a it's like this council of elders who are just from on high handing down these decisions that we have no, no way to influence and they're unelected people. And it's like, anything that is going to push them or sway them, I'm fine with so if it's bullying, let's do let's let's do more bullying. And

David Sirota 8:37
I and I, again, I think this is it's not bullying for its own sake, it's public pressure to say to the court start behaving in step with what the public actually wants. Right. I mean, I just think, look, I do think one of the the important functions of the court is to protect or at least protect the rights of the minority in this country. Right. I mean, the Warren Court in supporting civil rights legislation and the like, was protecting, in that case, the African American minority in this country. And I think that's an important role. But I also think what we see now is a court that protects a tiny, tiny, tiny minority, not just protects, empowers a tiny, tiny minority of billionaires and corporations to control everything, despite what the majority overwhelmingly wants stuff like voting rights, stuff like environmental rights, stuff like a government that takes the climate crisis seriously. labor rights and the like. And I think the court has become so focused on defending and empowering a tiny oligarchic minority that public press sure to push this court to honor what the public actually wants is a good thing. If that's what this is, and it sure looks like it. I mean, I just want to reiterate this. John Roberts has been leading the fight against voting rights for a quarter century. So the fact that suddenly he is voting for rulings that defend the Voting Rights Act, I mean, that is not a small thing. That is that is abrupt, it is sudden it is in response to something. And my guess is, it's public pressure. And so if you have been publicly pressuring this quarter, if you've been part of the movements to bring that pressure, kudos to you, keep it up. Okay, that's a good place to pivot to our big interview of the day. Our big interview today, Justin Elliot, from ProPublica was one of the reporters on the team that broke the news story. He was also on the team that broke the previous story about corruption and Clarence Thomas. Now that team has broken a new story about Sam Alito, and another billionaire, this billionaire, a hedge fund billionaire who has cases at the court. That's coming up next, but first, we're going to take a quick break. Welcome back to lever time for our big interview. Today, we're going to be speaking with one of the journalists who broke that huge story about Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito last week, ProPublica reported that Justice Alito had failed to disclose a private jet flight and luxury fishing vacation provided by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, one of the Republican Party's big donors, by the way, singers hedge fund Elliott Management later had cases before the Supreme Court in which Alito did not recuse himself. Then last week, the lever also published a story which detailed how singers hedge fund Elliott Management was using an Alito backed court decision, a recent one to fight new proposed anti fraud rules at the Securities and Exchange Commission. It's a case which could ultimately once again land in front of the Supreme Court if those rules that are enacted so in other words, Elliott Management, Paul singers hedge fund using a recent Supreme Court case to try to pressure the securities regulators not to put in place anti fraud rules that would affect his hedge fund. But if those rules go forward, if they are enacted, there's a chance that the same hedge fund could bring a new case to the Supreme Court and to Sam Alito, both of the stories about corruption, one set of stories that we've covered here about corruption, and Clarence Thomas. Now the new story about corruption and Justice Alito, both of them are part of pro publica as ongoing reporting. And just as a reminder, that story about Clarence Thomas was about how he failed to disclose gifts he received from his own billionaire benefactor, Harlan Crowe. For today's interview, we're gonna be joined once again by ProPublica is Justin Elliot, who co authored this new story about Alito Justin joined us a few months ago to talk about his reporting on that Clarence Thomas issue. And he's back again to discuss all of the new revelations about Alito, we were also joined by the levers, Andrew Perez, who's reporting on conservative political operative, Leonard Leo ties together so much of this Leonard Leo is lurking behind so much of this, these stories highlight not only how soft political influence operates, but also they highlight the lack of accountability and ongoing lack of oversight over the Supreme Court, which right now is largely left to supervise itself. We talk about whether that can change and whether it will change. Good, good, great reporting. So glad you're with us. For anyone who hasn't been following this huge story, let's let's get a brief review of the newest reporting on the latest Supreme Court justice to be involved in the plague of corruption that has overtaken the Supreme Court Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito, and his relationship with the billionaire hedge fund manager. Paul Singer. Tell us about what we've just learned. Sure.

Justin Elliot 14:25
So the heart of this is a free fishing vacation. Justice Alito took back in 2008. And what my my co reporters and I found is that in the summer of 2008, Alito was flown from the East Coast out to this remote little village in Alaska called King Salman on a private jet by this hedge fund billionaire and big time political donor Paul Singer and they I went to this fishing trip together for free at a lodge owned by another major political donor guy named Rob Barkley. And so this is sort of an example of the type of thing Clarence Thomas has been getting from Harlan Crowe like free summer vacations. We now know that it's not just Thomas. But this other Justice Alito is also gotten free trips to the tech No normal person ever gets from another politically influential billionaire. He didn't disclose it as he as the law required in his financial disclosures as a gift. And then the last piece of this importantly, is that Paul Singer who flew Alito out there in a private jet, his hedge fund that had a series of cases at the Supreme Court, Alito didn't recuse himself, ultimately, and one of them ruled in singers hedge funds favor. That's the short version,

David Sirota 15:53
Sam Alito preemptively responded to this story. In a kind of weird way. You went to him with questions about what you had learned, you went to the Supreme Court, and Alito, publicly responded to the story before it was ever published. He did that in the Wall Street Journal. What did he have to say? How does it comport with the facts that you reported?

Justin Elliot 16:24
Yeah, so it's a strange situation where we gone through the sort of official channels of the Supreme Court for comment and these detailed questions asked for an interview. Supreme Court spokeswoman told my coworker and I, early on Tuesday that Leto is not going to be commenting. And then a few hours later, the Wall Street Journal published a column accusing by Alito accusing us in the headline of misleading readers and the story that we hadn't actually published yet. So that was not usually how these things go, as you guys know. Um, but you know, he did have a substantive response. And he basically said two things. He said, first of all, I did not have to disclose this trip as a gift. And he advanced interpretation of the disclosure law that none of the I think eight ethics lawyers we've talked to agree with at all, we can go into that more if you want. And they said, second of all, I didn't even know Paul Singer was the guy that founded and runs and owns the hedge fund that repeatedly had cases at the court. Because if it doesn't, it's not called the Paul Singer fund. It's called something else. And I had no idea there was a connection, even though as we and many other people pointed out, this was on the front pages of all the business pages of the major newspapers in the country for many years, this fight between policymakers hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. That's what these cases were about. And then He further said that, even if he had known that this was a leaders hedge that this was singers hedge fund, the fact that they took this fishing trip together, and he got this free, expensive private jet flight would not be a reason to recuse himself, because he barely knows the guy. So those are that's kind of three points. He made

David Sirota 18:06
the question about that. I mean, how does this fit into the pattern of what Alito has disclosed in the past and has recused himself from in the past? I guess what I'm trying to get at here is, is there any kind of hypocrisy or selective interpretation of the law by Alito where he's disclosing certain things, but not disclosing other things, for instance, like the this trip? And if there is selectivity there, if it's not consistent, does that maybe suggest that it was deliberate?

Justin Elliot 18:43
A couple of thoughts. One is that, you know, as we briefly pointed out in the story, so there's fishing trip, I mean, what we were told by private jet companies is chartering this type of plane to go all the way to Alaska, it's a very long flight. One way that could easily cost over $100,000 If you were chartering the whole plan, so this is not cheap flight. And then the fishing lodge itself, charge over $1,000 a day. So it's not a cheap trip, either. So this is a kind of as somebody said, it's kind of like a vacation you'd like when on the wheel of fortune or something. It's not a thing that is these all expenses, vague luxury vacations, not a thing that certainly I have ever gotten as a gift from somebody. So the weird thing is that the year before this trip, if we were looking at Alito, as disclosures, he disclosed a much, much smaller gift, which was $500 worth of what was described as Italian food and wine from a friend of his, and then he actually has a little notation on his form saying, This guy, my friend, I think his name is Vincent kicker Reuleaux is not likely to ever have a case at the court. So that suggests to me that it Leto or whoever was filling out the form for him, if it wasn't him, understands why one of these one of the important reasons why why we have the get this gift disclosure law in the first place is so people can monitor potential conflicts. So we asked him about this sort of apparent discrepancy, like why would you disclose $500 of Italian food and not a much, much, much more expensive, fully paid for vacation and private jet trip with somebody who had had cases before the Supreme Court and was likely to have cases of course, before Supreme Court in the future. That's Paul Singer, the litigious hedge fund owner, a leader did not address that. So I don't know. I wonder

David Sirota 20:43
why he didn't address it. It's such a strange thing not to address. I'm kidding. Of course, in my view, he doesn't want to address it because it is a smoking gun. It shows in my view, intentionality, I'll disclose things over here. But I've decided not because I was an oversight. I've made a decision not to disclose this other thing. And that gets to the question about who Paul Singer really is, because Paul Singer, it needs to be underscored is not just some random billionaire. I've reported on Paul Singer for many years, as have reporters that the lever and Paul singers business model, effectively is litigation, it is the business of being in court to try to get his way in court to make a lot of money. Now, he's not a lawyer. But why don't you just explain to us a little bit more about that business model? And why the Supreme Court in specific and the judiciary in general, is so central to Paul singers business model, which again, goes back to why he may have such an interest in making friends with Sam Alito.

Justin Elliot 21:59
Yeah, so singers hedge fund that he founded, I think in the 70s is called Elliott Management, no relation to me, unfortunately, for my financial affairs, like, spelled the same as my last name, and yeah, what they're best known for are these, you know, what are sometimes described as activist investments. So they're not like picking a stock that they think is undervalued and holding it and hoping it goes up passively. They're making sometimes quite complex investments that usually involve a lot of action on their part, which, you know, in the kind of best known cases, has involved like years and years of litigation. So for example, I believe, actually, as we speak, they have a big lawsuit going against like the London Metal Exchange over something that happened with like nickel trading a few years ago, big high profile lawsuit against like, essentially, a commodity exchange. The most famous example and there's a bunch of examples is this, like 13 year saga of litigation against like the nation of Argentina. The short version of this is, Argentina was going through an economic crisis, they defaulted on their debt. Paul singer's hedge fund, bought up a bunch of these Argentine government bonds for for pennies on the dollar, and then sued Argentina and the US courts to try to get repaid in full. And so this was happening in federal court in New York, at the appellate level, and then repeatedly, both singers hedge fund and Argentina's lawyers, were asking the Supreme Court to take up various aspects of this litigation. People might remember there was this kind of crazy incident in 2012, in which singers hedge fund actually briefly had a Argentine Navy ships seized while it was docked off the coast of Ghana. And I believe it actually was the ship was actually held at this port for a few weeks and ended up going to like the UN tribunal for the Law of the Sea. And I think it was the only first case ever that had actually gone for the international tribunal. And singers hedge fund and ended up losing and the ship got to sail home. But in this was extremely high profile litigation, which you had this New York hedge fund going up against like a sovereign state and ultimately winning. And just to underscore the stakes here, Paul singers hedge fund was ultimately paid over $2 billion by the nation of Argentina. So we're talking about huge, huge, huge amounts of money, right? So so so his

David Sirota 24:38
business, he invests in, in many cases, betting on positive court rulings to make the value of what he has bought, more valuable. So he buys government debt from Argentina, and he can buy it at a discount because it's not clear whether courts are going to essentially force Argentina to do the repayment And then he fights in court in the judiciary for what he wants, which will increase the value of his investments and, and so the judiciary, then the Supreme Court are at the center of this particular benefactors business model. And I want to mention one other thing about this, as we reported it the lever after your story came out, his fights in the judiciary, his hedge funds, fights in the judiciary are continuing right now. Literally, the hedge fund Paul singer's hedge fund has been at the in front of SEC regulators trying to stop SEC regulators from putting in place anti fraud, pro transparency rules that would affect the kinds of of transactions that Paul singer's hedge funds does. And they have been arguing to sec regulators that a recent Supreme Court case backed up by Sam Alito means that the SEC can't can't and shouldn't pass these rules. And there's kind of an implicit threat that if the SEC goes forward, and does those rules, that the hedge fund industry Elliott Management and the like, could try to go back to the judiciary to get them to strike down these rules. Again, point being that the judiciary is central to the business of this particular benefactor who paid for this vacation for Sam Alito. Now. There is also a connection to Leonard Leo and Andrew Perez, who's reported on on on Leonard Leo, for us very extensively, has a couple questions about that.

Andrew Perez 26:38
Yeah, yeah. So, you know, a central player in in your most recent reporting is Leonard Leo, who is, you know, the CO chairman of the conservative Federalist Society, the conservative lawyers network in Washington. And so he attended and apparently helped organize this fishing vacation in Alaska. You know, Leo is sort of best known as Donald Trump's judicial advisor helping select three of the six conservative justices. You know, as you as you note here, singer has reportedly helped fund Leo's dark money courts operation, which, you know, actually started right around when Sam Alito was, was first nominated, they spent money on his behalf, helping helping boost his confirmation to the Supreme Court. So can you talk about Leo's role in this trip?

Justin Elliot 27:28
Yeah. So as you mentioned, Leo was, you know, one of the other people who was actually on this trip and flew over there with with singer and Alito. In fact, we were told is that and what we reported is that Leo was the one that asked singer if, if he Leo and Justice Alito could fly over on singers, private jets, singer said, Yes. We also got some emails that we quote in the story, and this was kind of an amusing thing, but I think also sheds a little bit of light on the role Leo is playing, which is after they got back from the trip a few weeks later, singer realized that he had never gotten his shipment of salmon that he was supposed to get from Alaska, because they you know, they caught all these huge king salmon. And so singer actually emailed Lennar, Lea Leo, and was like, Yeah, where's my salmon? I can't find the I never got them. And then Leo forwarded that on to the lodge owner, who's also a Leo donor. Sky, Rob is California guy, Rob Barkley, and to sort of take care of Paul singers fish. And obviously, we don't care about the fish, although I'm sure it was delicious. But I think it shows the kind of, you know, convening role that Leo is playing here. And I mean, you know, we would, we would still like to know more about how this came together. Like, how is it particularly with respect to Alito, generally, Supreme Court justices, at least the, you know, the kind of image that they cultivate generally, is being outside of this realm of kind of rough and tumble with the kind of rough and tumble politics that Leo's involved in Leo, as you guys well know, is involved in raising a lot of money spending that money on ad campaigns and kind of like Bare Knuckle politics, not normally this sort of thing that you associate Supreme Court justices with. So how did it happen that a sitting Supreme Court Justice was, seems to have been brought on this trip by Leo, financed by Leo donor? How does that come together? We still don't really have the full answer to that question. But clearly, Leo is playing an important role here. And as some people may remember if they've been following this coverage in the stories about Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crowe, we published this painting of Harlan Crowe and wearing like sandals and shorts hum with Thomas at one of Harlan crows properties, and Leonard Leo is actually getting that paint and also, so he started keeps popping up, you know. So

Andrew Perez 30:01
obviously we've reported on Leo for a long time, including with you and the team at ProPublica, we helped expose this $1.6 billion donation to this new nonprofit led by Leonard Leo, it came from this donor. Barry side. It seems like Leo is basically at the center of all of these Supreme Court ethics scandals, right. Like, you know, there's the one you just reported on. We also know that, you know, I think it was the Washington Post reporting reported about how Leo personally steered consulting payments to Clarence Thomas's wife, and those were coming from his courts operation, the Judicial Crisis Network, it's sort of, you know, altogether, painting this picture here. To use a phrase where he's like, looks like the bag man for the conservatives on the Supreme Court, right. Like he is like, the key is like at the epicenter of all the corruption and, and scandals swirling around the Supreme Court, and he's the guy who's helping them get vacations or passing them consulting payments, et cetera, like, Does this seem like a fair picture?

Justin Elliot 31:05
I think there's clearly like something going on there. We're still I still trying to fully understand I mean, like the the thing that's like, striking to me about it is most people unless you follow our everyday this stuff that you and I and other other few other reporters have been writing, like, still don't actually know who Leonard Leo is. Yeah, the thing is striking to me about it, as we're seeing the Supreme Court, like we'll more and more power, or at least wielded in a more salient way. I mean, like this week, they're probably going to be ruling on affirmative action and Biden student debt relief. So, you know, it'll be interesting to see how that goes. But yeah, this guy Leo, who's still a lot of people haven't heard of. He's never been elected to anything. He has no official role at the Supreme Court. I mean, that we know of, he's just sort of like a political a political operative. And so yeah, as you said, like he keeps popping up at the center of these Supreme Court ethics stories and helping select Supreme Court justices. So yeah, I mean, at the very least, I think it's fair to say at this point that he's like, one of the most powerful unelected people in in the country, or at least in US politics.

David Sirota 32:17
Final question for you is about what comes next, not necessarily in terms of just the corruption scandals, but whether there's going to be any kind of reaction from Congress. I mean, it's my view, that all of this pressure are all of the revelations, coupled with the Supreme Court's decision on cases like the dobs case a year ago, has brought substantial pressure on the Supreme Court to look like it's more moderate than it is. And this week, last couple of weeks, there have been some rulings that people thought would go one way and they've gone another way. In other words, a lot of people thought that the conservative court would hand down a bunch of conservative rulings on voting rights on on on state legislative issues and the like, and that didn't happen. The Supreme Court, in other words, has unexpectedly produced some, I guess, more moderate rulings. And it feels like that's in response to all of the revelations about the corruption scandals. And all of its the public heat about its past extreme rulings that that the Supreme Court actually feels the pressure. Now, maybe that's momentary, or maybe it's just a coincidence. What I'm getting at is, where are we when it comes to the Congress, for instance, mandating creating a set of ethics rules that can be enforced on this court, so that the court is less corrupt when it comes to the kind of, in my view, flagrant corruption that you have been exposing? Like, is that still nowhere?

Justin Elliot 33:56
Yeah, it's a good question. I think there's kind of two fronts. So like on the legislative front, Dick Durbin, the like Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said after this latest story came out that they're going to be marking up a Supreme Court ethics bill in the judiciary committee after the recess. So we'll see what happens with that, obviously, totally unclear how that would ever pass the full Congress at this point. But we'll be watching that. The thing that in some ways is more interesting in the near term is both the judiciary, the Judiciary Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden have been sending letters to Harlan Crowe asked you for more information on like, what, what other gifts have you given to Clarence Thomas? Because I assume, I mean, we're like pretty competent reporters, but we don't have subpoena power. And we can't look at Harlan crows bank account, at least at this point. If anyone else out there has ideas on that, let me know but the there's a potential for a serious investigation here. And Arlene Crowe's lawyers at Gibson Dunn have been sending these letters to dictators and saying, Yeah, we're not I'm going to comply with these requests for more information. So the big question is, is the Senate Judiciary Committee just going to stand down? Or are they going to start actually issuing subpoenas or getting more aggressive in some way? I don't know the answer to that. But they have the they certainly have the power to do that, for example, without, you know, having a vote in the House.

David Sirota 35:19
I mean, I'm not putting my faith. Unfortunately, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I'm definitely not putting my faith in Dick Durbin, who has been sitting in positions of power for really for decades. And while the Congress has refused to do much of anything in this, I mean, I sure hope that the reporting is going to prompt some action from Congress. I mean, it's I'm sure I speak for a lot of people who are listening to this, and thinking I can't believe that all of these revelations have happened. And we're, we're still not with a basic Congress doing the most basic thing, which is putting in place a basic set of of ethics rules. Now, of course, it's worth mentioning, John Roberts has held out the idea that even if Congress did something on ethics, you know, put in place imposed a set of judicial judicial ethics rules, the judiciary wouldn't have to follow them. Before we go. Tell us what that argument is. I feel like it's a separation of powers argument. And I think Harlan Crowe's own lawyers have floated that idea that even if Congress says, Okay, these are the rules, you got to disclose this, you got to tell us that, that the judiciary, in theory could say, yeah, no, we're not going to do it.

Justin Elliot 36:33
No, I mean, you're right. So interestingly, Harlan Crowes lawyers at Gibson, Dunn have articulated this more fully than John Roberts ever has. But, you know, as I think you guys have pointed out in the story, Roberts has publicly suggested that Congress doesn't have the power to impose rules on the Supreme Court. And yes, it appears to be a kind of separation of powers argument, although he hasn't really flushed out he's sort of suggested, well, who would decide whether Congress can do that? Well, the Supreme Court itself. So that would be interesting ruling. I guess the one piece of context that add about that is like Congress has passed a series of laws already over the decades that explicitly applied the justices, including the law that requires them along with a lot of other officials to file these financial disclosures every year. And I would just point out, the justices have been doing that. They they have not always been following the laws we've been reporting, but they fight they file these financial disclosures every year, they sign them. The signature page says something about, you know, civil and criminal penalties if you are willfully, you know, perjuring yourself in the in the form. So I'm no lawyer, but it's a little strange to me, to hear this argument being bandied about the Congress doesn't have the power to to pass these laws when Congress has passed these laws. And the court, at least on the financial disclosure front has, you know, been following them or at least appearing to follow them. So I don't really know what to make of that. We'll see. I guess what happens.

David Sirota 38:05
Justin Elliot is an investigative reporter at ProPublica. He's one of the team that broke the latest story about this one about justice Sam Alito taking a luxury fishing vacation with a Republican billionaire who later had cases before Justice Alito is court. Sounds like something out of a movie. Sounds like something where if you turned it in in a script for a movie that the studio's would say that's too ridiculous. That's too cartoonish. And yet it is real. Justin Elliot, and Andrew Perez of the lever. Thank you both for taking time with us today.

Justin Elliot 38:39
Thanks a lot.

David Sirota 38:42
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium, you get access to our special bonus episodes to listen to lever time premium, just head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber. When you do you get access to all delivers premium content, including our weekly newsletters and our live events. And that's all for just eight bucks a month, or 70 bucks for the year. One last favor. Please be sure to like subscribe and write a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. The app you are listening to right now. Take 10 seconds and give us a positive review in that app. And make sure to check out all of the incredible reporting our team has been doing over at lever news.com Until next time, I'm David Sirota rocked the boat. The lever time Podcast is a production of the lever and the lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me David Sirota Our producer is Frank Capello with help from the levers that lead producer Jared Yucheng mer.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai