ProPublica’s latest story on Justice Clarence Thomas features “a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas” that the justice reportedly told a close friend never happened.
ProPublica reported that oil baron Paul “Tony” Novelly’s chauffeur in the Bahamas said his company once drove the justice to the marina where Novelly’s 26-foot luxury yacht, the Le Montrachet, often docks. Mark Paoletta, a Schaerr Jaffe law firm partner and close friend of the justice, wrote in a Friday Wall Street Journal op-ed that Thomas told him he has never even seen the boat.
“ProPublica’s claim that Justice Thomas was a passenger on any yacht owned by Tony Novelly, including the Le Montrachet, is completely false,” Paoletta told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “He has never ever laid eyes on this boat. Moreover, Justice Thomas has never been in the Bahamas with Tony Novelly.”
“He last visited the Bahamas in the 1980s, long before he went on the Supreme Court and long before he met Mr. Novelly,” he continued. “There is not a shred of truth to this story.”
The yacht trip is one of 38 destination vacations ProPublica says Thomas took in a recent article detailing gifts he received from wealthy friends. ProPublica reported that three of Novelly’s former yacht workers said they remember Thomas coming on board Novelly’s yachts “multiple times.”
“Our reporting on Justice Thomas’ trip to the Bahamas was based on multiple firsthand sources,” ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg told the DCNF. “We asked Justice Thomas about this trip and he did not respond. We take any allegation of error seriously and our policy is to correct any inaccuracies as quickly as possible.”
Paoletta wrote in his WSJ op-ed that Thomas once walked onto a different yacht, the Daybreak, which Novelly co-owns, spending 30 minutes on board for a tour of the engine room.
“That’s the only time he has set foot on a boat owned by Mr. Novelly,” he wrote.
1/My op-ed on @Propublica error-filled smear job on Justice Thomas, falsely claiming Thomas was on yacht in Bahamas with friend. Thomas never on yacht & last in Bahamas was in 1980s, long before he was on Court or met friend. @eisingerj @BrettMmurphy https://t.co/hJ7l9v4YLK
— Mark Paoletta (@MarkPaoletta) August 19, 2023
Paoletta also disputed other elements of ProPublica’s story, including the facts surrounding a standing invitation Thomas was extended for an exclusive, members-only golf club and the value of a seat at a football game Thomas attended with business executive David Sokol.
While ProPublica estimates the “annual” price of the luxury suite Thomas and Sokol occupied during a University of Nebraska football game in 2019 to be $40,000, Paoletta says the Nebraska Athletic Department confirmed the ticket price for Thomas’ seats was just $65, and notes he attended the game too. As for the golf club invitation extended by billionaire Wayne Huizenga, Thomas never accepted, according to Paoletta.
ProPublica’s story notes Thomas met Huizenga, Sokol and Novelly through the Horatio Alger Association. The New York Times recently reported on Thomas’ involvement with the organization, writing that it gave him access to the lives of its “wealthy members.”
Sokol told the DCNF the outlets misrepresent Thomas’ involvement “in their attempt to falsely discredit the United States Supreme Court.”
“Justice Thomas’s involvement was completely based upon his personal commitment to the young men and Women scholars which the Association supports,” he said. “While I am certain that Justice Thomas has respect for his fellow Association Members, his actual friendships with such members are few as he and his wife are socially shy.”
ProPublica notes in its article that it “has not identified any legal cases that Huizenga, Sokol or Novelly had at the Supreme Court during their documented relationships with Thomas, although they all work in industries significantly impacted by the court’s decisions.”
A DCNF review of tax documents in June revealed that ProPublica’s biggest donors, such as the Sandler Foundation, which launched the outlet, also fund several groups calling for Thomas to be investigated or resign. A majority of experts cited by ProPublica in its stories on Supreme Court justices alleged ethics violations also have histories of donating to Democratic campaigns and left-wing causes, the DCNF’s review of Federal Election Commission (FEC) records found.
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