Clarence Thomas broke the law, and it isn’t particularly close, write Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Stern in Slate. The best argument in his defense is that the old definition of “personal hospitality” did not require him to disclose transportation, including private flights. This reading works only by torturing the English language beyond all recognition.
The old rule, like the statute it derives from, defined the term as hospitality that is “extended” either “at” a personal residence or “on” their “property or facilities.” A person dead-set on defending Thomas might be able to squeeze these yacht trips into this definition, arguing that, by hosting Thomas on his boat for food, drink, and sightseeing, Crow “extended” hospitality “on” his own property.
But lending out the private jet for Thomas’ personal use? Come on. There’s no plausible way to shoehorn these trips into the old rule—which quotes the statute verbatim—even under the most expansive interpretation imaginable. Letting somebody use your private jet to travel around the country is not “extend[ing]” hospitality “on” your property. It is lending out your property to someone else so they can avoid paying for a commercial flight.
Thomas broke the law, a law which contains serious civil penalties, though the bogus technicality on which he relies, in addition to his political clout, will be more than enough to ensure that he never faces any actual legal consequences.
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