Jurisprudence

Ginni Thomas’ White House Meeting Was Just Another Grift

The Supreme Court justice’s wife wants the president to hire more of her fringe, nativist friends.

Ginni Thomas.
Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, moderates a panel discussion during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on Feb. 23, 2017.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, met with Donald Trump at the White House to lobby for patronage jobs. Over the course of an awkward hour, Thomas and her far-right associates also reportedly conveyed a litany of conservative complaints to the president, condemning military service by transgender people and women as well as marriage equality. But the main purpose of the meeting, according to the Times, was graft: Thomas wants the Trump administration to hire more of her friends and believes the president’s aides are blocking their appointment.

It is undoubtedly troubling that the spouse of a Supreme Court justice would be pressuring the president on policies that come before the court. (For instance, days before the meeting, Clarence Thomas cast the fifth vote to lift injunctions blocking Trump’s ban on transgender troops.) These ethical concerns, however, should be balanced with the reality that Ginni Thomas has little real influence. She has few followers or donors and no leverage over Trump or anyone else. Her political career is a series of grifts that produces nothing of value for the conservative movement. The Thomases surely deserve criticism for flouting ethics rules, but Ginni’s schemes have never amounted to much more than vanity projects enabled solely by her proximity to power.

Ginni began her career as an aide to Republican Rep. Hal Daub in 1981 and was soon promoted to legislative director. She left the job to attend Creighton University School of Law. After Ginni failed the Nebraska bar, she became involved with an alleged cult called Lifespring, calling it a “kind of quick fix.” She quit after questioning Lifespring’s dubious activities, such as compelling members to strip to bikinis or mock fat people’s bodies, and publicly condemned the group. Ginni eventually moved back to Washington and joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she lobbied against the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1991, she took a position at the Department of Labor, arguing against legislation guaranteeing equal pay for female employees. Then, in 1993, after her husband’s fraught ascension to the Supreme Court, GOP Congressman Dick Armey hired her to investigate the Clinton White House’s ethics.

In 2000, Ginni joined the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank closely tied to the Republican Party. When Bush v. Gore came before the Supreme Court, Ginni was collecting résumés for possible appointments to George W. Bush’s administration. (Her husband declined to recuse from the case and cast the fifth vote effectively elevating Bush to the presidency.) Ginni worked at Heritage through the Bush administration as a White House liaison. It was a lucrative job: Between 2003 and 2007, she earned more than $686,000—money her husband failed to report on financial disclosure forms at the time.

Following the election of Barack Obama, Ginni decided to become a Tea Party activist and, in 2009, launched a lobbying group called Liberty Central. She declared that her organization would fight the “tyranny” of the new president, focusing on his health care bill, the Affordable Care Act. Ginni had high hopes for Liberty Central; she told Fox News that it would be “bigger than the Tea Party movement.” But it was initially funded by just two large anonymous donations. It ran anti-ACA ads on conservative talk shows’ websites and organized a petition against the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which was not a mosque and not at Ground Zero). After ethics watchdog Common Cause complained to the IRS that the group engaged in too much partisan activity to claim nonprofit status, Liberty Central dissolved. Thomas paid herself an annual salary of $120,000. (Her husband also failed to disclose this income at the time.)

Ginni then began Liberty Consulting, a one-person operation. She sold her services as a “political entrepreneur” who could help donors to spend more in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates to political spending. (Her husband cast the fifth vote, but argued the decision did not go far enough.) She also helped to form a shadowy coalition called Groundswell to promote hard-right policies. (Some individuals affiliated with the group: Steve Bannon, Dan Bongino, and Leonard Leo.) And she joined the Daily Caller as a “special correspondent,” where she made videos until 2018. (One video, indicative of her approach, promised to reveal the Obama administration’s “brazen plot to exonerate Hillary Clinton.”)

Liberty Consulting remains registered in Virginia, but its website is inactive. Aside from her Daily Caller contributions—which ended in 2018—Ginni’s work mostly consists of inflammatory Facebook posts. She has attacked, among other people, Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Robert Mueller, David Hogg, the Girl Scouts, and DACA recipients. One post accused George Soros of backing a Democratic “coup” against Trump and “our constitutional republic,” using language similar to European autocrats’ anti-Semitic campaigns against the billionaire. In 2017 and 2018, she hosted the Impact Awards in her capacity as “President of Liberty Consulting,” bestowing honors on hoax artist James O’Keefe as well as right-wing pundits Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

And that, it appears, is largely the extent of Ginni’s “consulting” work. Aside from posting partisan and racist memes, she travels to conservative conferences with her assistant, Crystal Clanton, who left Turning Point USA after, according to Mediaite and the New Yorker, she sent a text to a colleague that read: “I hate black people. Like fuck them all … I hate blacks. End of story.” Ginni has also defended Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who allegedly covered up sexual abuse as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, declaring that he is “under attack, with false accusations, because he threatens the elite.” (In 2018, she circulated a letter urging Republicans to replace Paul Ryan with Jim Jordan as speaker of the House.) And she apparently meets with her Groundswell associates in an effort to place more members of the group in the Trump administration.

This last project explains how Ginni wound up at the White House last week, reportedly alleging a conspiracy among Trump aides to deny high-level positions to her friends. From the Times report, it’s clear that no one in the administration was eager for this meeting to occur: It was “arranged after months of delay” and only “came about after the Thomases had dinner with the president and the first lady, Melania Trump.” Trump “sat, saying little but appearing taken aback,” for an hour, as Thomas “accused the president’s aides of blocking” her associates’ appointment. Several people “familiar with the situation” told the Times that these individuals were actually “rejected for a range of reasons”; at least one was “offered a job and declined it because the position was not considered senior enough.” Moreover, Ginni “had not actually shared the full list of people to be hired,” according to the report.

Who joined Ginni in pushing for patronage? Talking Points Memo revealed on Monday that among the 16 people at the meeting were Connie Hair, Frank Gaffney, and Rosemary Jenks. Hair is chief of staff to GOP Rep. Louis Gohmert and former spokeswoman for Arizona’s Minuteman militia and has written articles decrying the Muslim Brotherhood’s “infiltration of American government” and the ostensible spread of sharia law in America. Gaffney is the founder of the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy who accused Obama of being a secret Muslim and claimed pipe bombs sent to Democrats allegedly by an unhinged Trump supporter were a false flag. Jenks is the director of government relations at NumbersUSA, a white nationalist anti-immigrant group. In 2008, she spoke at the conference of the outwardly racist Social Contract Press, which publishes tracts claiming that Hispanic immigrants seek a race war against whites.

On Tuesday, Ginni doubled down on her apparent conspiracy theory, writing on Facebook that “the Trump White House staff hoped to distance” her associates “from their President” and warning of their “sabotage.” But it is not difficult to guess why Trump’s aides would like Groundswell members out of the administration. These individuals are fringe activists like Ginni, politically toxic even to this nativist president. Were it not for their connection to the spouse of a Supreme Court justice beloved by the administration, they would almost certainly never have gotten a face-to-face meeting with Trump.

The New York Times report is not so much shocking as it is pitiable. Despite her relentless cheerleading for Trump, this is what Ginni Thomas has been reduced to: a gadfly on the periphery of the White House, demanding government jobs for her friends. Trump was apparently too polite to rebuff Ginni to her face, but his silence in the meeting speaks volumes. The president knows that she possesses no real power. He need only do what so many others have done when Ginni Thomas comes calling: humor her, then move on.