The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas Thursday morning for GOP donor Harlan Crow and co-chairman of The Federalist Leonard Leo over their paying for trips for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, said the subpoenas were politically motivated, given that the two private individuals who the senators are seeking information from are prominent conservatives.

“Democrats are breaking the Senate Judiciary Committee rules to issue subpoenas as part of a witch hunt against Supreme Court justices they don’t like,” Lee said in a statement on X.

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are leading the call for the subpoena requests for Crow and Leo which ask for 25 years of information, including the full extent of payments, gifts, travel and lodging given to Supreme Court justices, per the committee’s website.

In a Nov. 2 press release, Durbin said he was requesting subpoenas to investigate news stories about trips and other gifts to the justices.

Clarence Thomas says he was advised personal trips need not be reported

Thomas released a statement on April 7 saying he did not report family trips due to being “advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.” Since Supreme Court financial guidelines changed, Thomas said, “It is, of course, my intent to follow this guidance in the future.”

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, Durbin said, “Both Leonard Leo and Harlan Crow are central players in this crisis. Their attempts to thwart the legitimate oversight efforts of Congress should concern all of us.”

Though Crow and Leo are connected to Alito and Thomas, The Washington Examiner reported there is zero evidence their travel together influenced the justices’ votes.

GOP senators argued the subpoenas are partisan and unnecessary

During the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., said though Crow was under no obligation to, he “offered five years of his documents” to the court, which were deemed insufficient.

Lee added that on Nov. 9, a committee chairman said ethics issues within the Supreme Court should be dealt with within the judicial branch, saying, “It is within the power of the chief justice and his fellow justices to solve this problem before noon today, and they should have done so a long time ago.”

The Supreme Court issued a new code of conduct on Nov. 13 that all nine Supreme Court justices signed. Lee said, “I haven’t heard anyone describe it as inadequate or insufficient. Wasn’t that the entire condition of precedent for this committee even considering that?”

The subpoenas are issued to private citizens, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “Are you familiar with any legitimate legislative purpose for subpoenaing private citizens?” 

“I think this is a charade politically motivated to attack the integrity of the Roberts Court, to act on what they said they wanted to do, to destroy Clarence Thomas’ reputation,” Graham responded. He claimed since both Leo and Crow are prominent, public conservatives who are on “the top of the ‘guy I hate most’ list,” the subpoenas are “politically motivated, not legislatively motivated.”

ProPublica, a newsroom funded by progressive donors, said on Aug. 10 that Thomas took trips paid for by friends “who share the ideology that drives his jurisprudence.”

Durbin contrasts the subpoena request to Crossfire Hurricane

Durbin contrasted the request to subpoena Crow and Leo with Republicans authorizing subpoenas for over 50 named people and an unlimited number of unnamed people in 2020.

The difference between the two subpoena requests was that the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the FBI, and documents were needed to figure out how Crossfire Hurricane “got off the rails.” Meanwhile, GOP Senate Judiciary Committee members argue that Thomas and Alito’s personal travels are outside of their jurisdiction.

If Leo and Crow refuse the subpoenas, the Senate will vote on whether to enforce them. If fewer than 60 senators vote to move forward with enforcement, the subpoenas will be nullified.