Mary Harris: Hey, everyone. This week as we ease out of summer, we’re going to replay some of our favorite episodes from the last year. I’m going to start off with a conversation that will only become more relevant in the coming weeks. It’s a profile of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, his wife, Ginni. The January six committee has been circling around her for months. But Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, he’s been thinking about Ginni Thomas for years. We recorded this conversation with him back in March. All right. Here’s the show. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has been keeping an eye on Ginni Thomas for a while now. It has not been difficult. She’s outspoken.
Speaker 2: So she used to run a Facebook page that was public.
Mary Harris: This was back in 2018.
Speaker 2: It was a dark place. Truly, I mean, I did feel like in part, I was an anthropologist. And in the Trump years, I would have thought she’d be celebrating all the time, that she’d be like, Yeah, thank you, President Trump, you know, you did this, you did that. I’m so happy that your agenda is finally happening. But instead, it was all rage and paranoia all the time. And frankly, I think that’s what first drew me to her page, because it was not what I would have expected from someone who is like a lifelong lobbyist for the GOP, who was getting access to the White House.
Mary Harris: Because she’d won.
Speaker 2: Yeah, she won.
Mary Harris: When Mark says these posts were angry and strange, he means Jenny Thomas would post stuff about how the Parkland shooting survivors were a special kind of stupid. Then she would post a meme calling Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan prostitutes.
Speaker 2: And it wouldn’t really matter except that she has the ear of some of the most powerful people on the American right.
Mary Harris: One thing I should make clear here, Jenny Thomas is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But it does Ginni a disservice to describe her simply in terms of her spouse. She’s a D.C. powerbroker. She runs a consulting firm that boasts it can open any door in Washington. She’s launched the careers of right wing media stars, people like Dan Bongino. She’s got this knack for building up ideological networks.
Speaker 2: And so I felt like it was legitimate and newsworthy to report on the spouse of a Supreme Court justice, not simply because she’s married to a justice, but because she was a powerful figure in her own right and her work was overlapping more and more with her husband’s.
Mary Harris: Mark has been thinking about all this because last week a lot of reporters seemed to learn what he’d known for a while.
Mary Harris: We want to turn now to an exclusive CBS News and Washington Post investigation. Tonight, the select committee investigating January 6th got its hands on some of Ginni Thomas’s text messages. They were sent directly to then President Trump’s chief of staff in the wake of the 2020 election.
Speaker 2: The stunning text messages detail an extraordinary relationship between Ginni Thomas and then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows just after.
Mary Harris: In these texts, Ginni Thomas urges Trump and his supporters to keep Joe Biden out of office. She encourages them to, quote unquote, stop the steal with the fervor of a zealot.
Speaker 2: Do not concede, she wrote. It takes time for the army who is gathering for his back. Tom has urged Meadows to help the president.
Mary Harris: Stand.
Speaker 2: Firm. The majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history.
Mary Harris: The message for the left, Ginni Thomas, has been problematic for a while, like you’re saying. But I’m wondering if you think these texts change something.
Speaker 2: So for a long time, there has been this concern that there’s overlap between Ginni Thomas’s work and Clarence Thomas, his work. So we know, for instance, that Ginni Thomas is involved with various organizations that filed briefs before the Supreme Court. But until now, there hasn’t really been a kind of smoking gun where Clarence Thomas has cast a vote that directly protects or favors Ginni. Now we have evidence that he voted in at least one case in a way that would have shielded Ginni Thomas from legal scrutiny.
Speaker 2: Right. He voted to block the January six committee from obtaining a bunch of Trump documents about January 6th in which Ginni Thomas may well appear. And that’s the first time ever, as far as I’m aware, that you can draw a direct line between Clarence Thomas and his legal work and Ginni Thomas and her political work. And that, I think, is a really big deal.
Mary Harris: Today on the show. Why Ginny Thomas’s text messages are just the beginning. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stick around. Ginny Thomas was born and raised in Nebraska, where her family was involved in conservative politics. Jenny herself went to law school. Then she bounced between staff stints with Republican politicians and various conservative organizations, finally starting up her own lobbying group with close ties to the Tea Party. Along the way, she married Clarence Thomas just before he was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Mary Harris: In the years since, Jenny Thomas made herself part of the conservative infrastructure in D.C.. A few years back, she started the Impact Awards. That’s an annual luncheon celebrating conservative icons, as well as the movement’s more obscure foot soldiers. In 2019, the luncheon was held at the Trump International Hotel. Thank you so much. You’re going to make me cry. Thank you very much. It is useful to pay attention to what Jenny Thomas says in tape like this, just to hear how she describes her own point of view. This is how she described the left that day. Keep in mind, this is 2019. Donald Trump is still president.
Speaker 3: They use manipulation, mobs, deceit for their ends in the name.
Mary Harris: Of Thomas goes on to say The left uses Hollywood to normalize extreme views that they spew hate, but they wield tactics of ritual defamation.
Speaker 3: They call us haters, bigots, xenophobes, extremists or conspiracy theorists.
Mary Harris: She says the people she’s honoring at the ceremony, they have felt the wrath of being conservative leaders.
Speaker 3: We appreciate that. They’re standing for our beliefs. We are here to remember why we fight.
Mary Harris: To Mark Joseph Stern. These kinds of fighting words, they’re pretty typical. Virginia Thomas.
Speaker 2: Yes. And that aligns with other little snippets of speeches that she’s given that we’ve gotten access to. So in one, she notoriously talked about how the transsexual fascists and the fascist left are exploiting their position within the deep state to put America into existential danger. Often you hear martial metaphors in her rhetoric. There is a sense of almost like a cosmic battle between good and evil. And good is the right, and evil is the left.
Mary Harris: And then towards the end of these impact awards. She gives an award to her text buddy Mark Meadows, who at the time was a congressman. Thank you. But within a few months, he’s going to be the chief of staff for Donald Trump.
Speaker 2: Thank you for this award. I’m going to keep.
Mary Harris: Which to me, it just shows how tight she was in there. Like we know she was texting him, but this is a relationship that was built up over years.
Speaker 2: What I glean from this is that folks toward the top of the Republican caucus in the House recognize that they need to make friends with Ginni Thomas in order to continue their rise.
Mary Harris: I mean, you cover the Supreme Court. Is it normal behavior for a Supreme Court spouse to be giving out awards to Washington insiders, that kind of thing?
Speaker 2: Yeah. I mean, okay. No, of course. Of course it isn’t. The Supreme Court is actually required by federal law to retain this appearance of of impartiality. And there is a federal statute that requires justices to recuse when their impartiality could be reasonably questioned. But there’s no one to enforce that rule. And so the justices can just ignore it. And it is highly unusual, really unprecedented to have the spouse of a justice this engaged in political activism. I mean, just to give you an example, John Roberts wife, she was involved in anti-abortion stuff before he joined the court.
Mary Harris: Feminists for Life.
Speaker 2: Yes, that’s right, Feminists for Life. She was very into like, I’m a feminist and I oppose abortion. We exist and trying to normalize this idea that there’s a pocket of feminism that opposes abortion. And she was committed to that. That was a big part of her life, and she let it all go. When John Roberts joined the Supreme Court because she understood that that is like the ground rule for being the spouse of a justice. And Ginni Thomas and Clarence Thomas just totally reject that idea and really refuse to directly address the accusations of partiality and conflicts of interest and unethical conduct.
Mary Harris: So a few months after this award ceremony in December 2019 is the 2020 election. And the 2020 election is when we begin to see these texts emerge. The January six committee has released them between Jenny Thomas and Mark Meadows. And I want to just go through those texts a little bit, because there are couple of things happening with them. A bunch of them read just like mash notes from a Trump true believer. But the true believer has access to the White House like there’s a lot of weird capitalizations. But then there’s a different level where she is offering up conspiracy theories as fact to the White House. So I’m wondering if you can translate those for me and tell me exactly what she’s referring to and why it’s so notable.
Speaker 2: So the easiest one to translate is that she was a Sidney Powell person.
Mary Harris: Sidney Powell was the lawyer who released the Kraken.
Speaker 2: Yes.
Speaker 3: President Trump won this election in a landslide, and I’m going to release the Kraken.
Speaker 2: So Ginni Thomas texted Mark Meadows, Release the Kraken and save us from the left. Taking America down even after Trump disavows. Sidney Powell really kind of throws or under the bus. She is texting Mark Meadows. Why are you distancing yourself from her? She is going to save us so long after everyone else has sort of gotten the joke. Jenny Thomas is still defending Sidney Powell and saying, release the Kraken. If we move into kind of deeper conspiratorial territory. She sends Mark Meadows this article and quotes a passage from it that says The Biden crime, family and ballot fraud co-conspirators are being arrested and detained for ballot fraud right now. And over coming days will be living in barges of Gitmo to face military tribunals for sedition.
Mary Harris: And she sent that as fact.
Speaker 2: Yeah, she sent that as fact, as far as we can tell. Like she just sent this to him, like, oh, thought you should know. Joe Biden’s currently on a barge off Gitmo to face a military tribunal. Have a great day. Love Ginni.
Mary Harris: What is this about? Like what? Because that did not happen.
Speaker 2: As Ben Collins at NBC has reported, he’s a kind of expert on Q and on. Basically, he talks about how this has been a long standing fantasy among Q and on true believers that there are going to be these barges that collect the enemies of Trump in his administration and bring them down to Guantanamo Bay and try them for treason or sedition or whatever. And that that’s going to be the grand climax of this long boiling battle between good and evil. And that good will finally prevail when these people are locked up in Guantanamo. And that is what Ginni Thomas apparently believed on November 5th, 2020.
Mary Harris: What’s interesting here is you can see how Ginni Thomas is really part of this web of connections in the post 2020 election world. And then on January six itself, she was cheering on people who were at the Ellipse and eventually the Capitol. Right.
Speaker 2: And she herself was at the Ellipse. We now know. So, yes, she was very enmeshed in this movement and not just close with Mark Meadows, but close with the organizers of the event. Allegedly, according to Jane Mayer, served as a kind of peacemaker and brought together different factions organizing this event. She was so respected in these various pockets of the right that she was able to bring together different leaders and say, This is what you need to do. You all need to get along. This is our goal.
Mary Harris: So was she a ringleader?
Speaker 2: I think so. I think that’s a fair description.
Mary Harris: Back after a break.
Mary Harris: Let’s bring it back to how Ginni and Clarence Thomas interact. Because here we are like a little more than a year after January six, after all these text messages were sent between Mark Meadows and Jenny Thomas. How many cases involving the 2020 election or Donald Trump or January 6th have come before the Supreme Court?
Speaker 2: Already at least half a dozen, and my count may be incomplete. And what’s really notable is that Thomas has been on the pro-Trump side of all, most if not all of those cases. So, for instance, he was pushing really hard to take up this big case about whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court lawfully extended the receipt deadline for mail ballots. And in his dissent, he promoted some of these conspiracy theories about ballot fraud that we now know Ginni Thomas was texting to Mark Meadows and probably others.
Speaker 2: So he wrote in an opinion, you know, mail balloting is just inherently susceptible to fraud. It relies exclusively on a system of trust. It’s an honor system. When courts expand mail balloting, they’re just expanding opportunities for fraud. And that is just the slightly nicer way of saying what Ginni was saying about the Biden crime family engaging in mass ballot fraud even before Thomas’s notorious vote, trying to block the January six committee from getting these documents about Trump. It was very clear that there was overlap between Jenny’s political activism after the 2020 election and Clarence Thomas own votes trying to help Trump during the 2020 election.
Mary Harris: Now, if you ask Clarence and Ginni Thomas, they’ll say, we keep things separated. We don’t discuss work.
Speaker 2: Yes, that’s what they say.
Mary Harris: So there have already been a number of cases that touch on all these issues that have come before the Supreme Court. I imagine there are actually more to come. Is there any chance in your mind that Clarence Thomas will recuse himself?
Speaker 2: I don’t think so, frankly. And I know that sounds kind of shocking and may be way too cynical, but I think at this stage for Clarence Thomas to recuse wood would be like conceding defeat. I think he has so invested in this idea that he and Ginni are fully separate. And so he is not going to start doing now what he obviously should have started doing years ago. I could even imagine a case where Ginni Thomas is directly implicated, where Jenny Thomas has been subpoenaed by the January six committee, and she fights that subpoena to the Supreme Court and Clarence Thomas not only voting on the case, but siding with her.
Mary Harris: Whoa. I mean, there have been reports and all manner of experts basically saying the other justices on the court are probably really embarrassed by this, you know. Doesn’t look good for them to have Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas working in lockstep in this way. Why doesn’t that matter? Like, why can’t they just go to him and say, hey, like, we’re going to need you to recuse here.
Speaker 2: Because there is nothing they can actually do to make him recuse. There is nothing that anyone can actually do to make him recuse. And so I think that they are genuinely afraid of poisoning their relationship with him by pressing this issue too hard or too far. I know that might make them sound like they’re weenies, but think about it from the perspective of someone like Elena Kagan. Elena Kagan has nabbed Clarence Thomas vote in some pretty important cases. And so I think if you’re Kagan, you’re going to say to yourself, going to him and asking him to recuse will accomplish nothing, because he won’t. Because I have no influence over this, because this is all building on decades of unethical conduct. And I’m coming in rather late. All I’m going to do is further alienate him and make it even more difficult to get that fifth vote on a63 Conservative court. So why risk it?
Mary Harris: What about impeaching Clarence Thomas? Is there a case for that here?
Speaker 2: Oh, absolutely. Of course there is. But moderates do not want to burn up their political capital and their time impeaching a justice. And all of these Democrats know that even if they get the impeachment through the House, the Senate is not going to remove him. Republicans will never vote to remove Clarence Thomas.
Mary Harris: There are reports that the January six committee is planning to ask Ginni Thomas to testify about her involvement in the events of January 6th. How do you expect that to play out? Because a lot of White House insiders have straight up refused to testify.
Speaker 2: Two things. First, let me just say, this is a theory on my part. I don’t have reporting to back it up, but I think it seems pretty clear that Democratic members of the January 6th committee leaked these texts to put pressure on Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to call Ginni to testify. If you read the reporting around this, if you read the New York Times report specifically about Liz Cheney’s extreme hesitance to even look into Ginni Thomas. If you look between the lines, it seems pretty clear that Democrats want to call her and Republicans don’t. And this committee has been so unified for so long, bringing the two Republicans on board, why risk creating a huge rift between the two sides? And yet, now that the texts are out, it’s going to be really hard for them not to call her to testify.
Speaker 2: Right, because she is there on January 6th texting the chief of staff, the guy who is like one of the main targets of this committee, actively engaging in these conspiracy theories and urging along this attempted coup. So, you know, if she gets subpoenaed, if she gets called to testify, I strongly doubt she will agree to it. I think she will fight it knowing that she has at least one vote on her side on the Supreme Court. But I’m not sure the committee will get that far because they are so eager or even desperate to prevent any rift between Cheney and Kinzinger and the Dems.
Mary Harris: So you’re thinking that they won’t call her to testify.
Speaker 2: Correct? Clarence Thomas has been on the Supreme Court for 30 years. He has had four clerks every year. And many of those clerks are now power brokers in DC. Super powerful, wealthy, well-connected people deeply entrenched in DC politics and DC conservative activism.
Speaker 2: And one of the problems with giving justices life tenure is that they are able to build up this network of protectors who can spring into action if their justice is facing any kind of problem, including an investigation, and try to shield him or his spouse from accountability. And that appears to be exactly what we’re seeing right now. We are seeing Thomas Clarke family, as he always calls them, spring into action to shield him. And Jenny, from this investigation and from any fallout. There is no system in place to push back against that.
Mary Harris: You know, you have a really strong POV when it comes to Clarence in Ginni Thomas. I’m wondering, when you talk to people, your colleagues on the other side of the aisle, do they share your perspective on these two and where where does it converge and where does it diverge?
Speaker 2: So I think it almost all depends on whether we’re talking on or off the record. If we’re talking off the record, I have definitely heard people on the right say what Ginni Thomas is doing is bad. It’s bad for the court. It’s bad for Clarence Thomas. He should have put his foot down years ago and said this is creating a conflict of interest. And clearly he is seeing his reputation tarnished because of Ginny’s activism. Whether or not they think that’s fair, they can acknowledge that it’s happened. Right. But if you talk to them on the record, they won’t say any of that because they feel this very strong imperative to protect the justice and his wife.
Speaker 2: And this is this is not a 1 to 1 comparison. This is not even an analogy. But I think that there is a bit of an echo here with when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg started bashing Trump publicly. Some of the folks who have complained about Clarence and Ginni in the past, who have complained about justices making political statements, did not complain about RBG, in part because she’s an icon. She was the leader of the American left. She was widely beloved. And I think a lot of people felt like there was no point in criticizing her because the right had already been hounding her and what she did was wrong, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. And again, not a direct analogy. She did apologize.
Speaker 2: What she said does not hold a candle to what both Clarence and Ginni have said. But it just kind of illustrates this broader problem with giving folks like both RBG and Clarence Thomas life tenure to develop sprawling networks of supporters who will support them publicly no matter what, and try to shield them from consequences even when they’re deserved.
Mary Harris: Mark Joseph Stern, thank you so much for telling me what’s going on.
Speaker 2: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Mary.
Mary Harris: Mark Joseph Stern covers the courts, especially the Supreme Court for Slate. Since this episode originally aired, it’s been reported that Ginny Thomas sent emails to dozens of Arizona legislators encouraging them to ignore Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win and appoint electors loyal to President Trump. The January six committee has said it’s considering subpoenaing Thomas as they continue to do their work this fall. And that’s our show. This best of episode of What Next was produced by Alena Schwartz, Mary Wilson and Carmel Delshad with help from Anna Rubanova and Laura Spencer. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. Our new production team includes Madeline Ducharme with help from Gerard Downing and Anna Phillips. Talk to you tomorrow.