mark paoletta

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Clarence Thomas’ friend keeps getting dunked on for defending Justice’s ethically questionable luxury vacations

What are friends for?


Marlon Ettinger


A new report published by ProPublica today revealed a fuller extent of luxury vacations Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been gifted. Once again, his friend Mark Paoletta, who frequently appeared on the same vacations, rushed to defend him.

The trips come from a “cadre of industry titans and ultrawealthy executives,” and include 38 destination vacations, yacht trips in the Bahamas, eight helicopter trips, 26 private jet jaunts, skybox tickets to a dozen sporting and professional events, lavish resort stays in Jamaica and Florida, and an uber-exclusive invite to one of the choosiest golf clubs in the world.

Before ProPublica released their story today, one of Thomas’ longtime friends jumped to his defense. 

Mark Paoletta, a former Trump administration OMB counsel and assistant White House Counsel to George H. W. Bush, wrote a long thread saying that Thomas was actually ethically in the clear.

It’s the second time he’s defended Thomas after a ProPublica story.

“Leftwing billionaire-funded attack dog @ProPublica is going to run another smear job on Justice Thomas & travel w/ one of friends who had no business before court,” Paoletta wrote. “ProPublica is obsessed w/ Thomas b/c/ its funders want to destroy Court b/c of abortion/affirmative action rulings.”

“If funding from billionaires has an inherently corrupting influence they are not gonna believe what ProPublica has discovered about Clarence Thomas,” wrote Twitter user @johnlray, reacting to Paoletta’s reference to ProPublica being a “Leftwing billionaire-funded attack dog.”

Paoletta cited a June 4 op-ed he wrote in the Wall Street Journal arguing that Clarence Thomas’ travel had been properly reviewed in 2011 by Judicial Conference, a government-empowered body composed of federal judges and presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States.

According to Paoletta, that review had found that “nothing had been presented to support a determination that Justice Thomas … willfully or improperly failed to disclose information concerning travel reimbursements.”

“Disclosure,” Paoletta noted. “I am friends with both Justice Thomas and Mr. Crow, [and] was on some of the trips ProPublica cites…”

In his previous defense of Thomas, published after ProPublica’s first story and written in the National Review, Paoletta did not mention he’d gone on trips with the justice.

“Bruh,” noted Twitter user @damienredicamn1, quote tweeting Paoletta’s thread. The Twitter user attached a screenshot showing an excerpt from the ProPublica article about one of many trips the Thomases took allegedly funded by David Sokol, a private equity investor who was once a former top executive at Berkshire Hathaway.

“In Wyoming,” ProPublica reported, “the Thomases fished, rafted on the Snake River and sat by a campfire overlooking the Teton Range with the other couples. At one point, the Paolettas serenaded the justice with a song they wrote about him.”

“They wrote a song but couldn’t be assed to remember the lyrics???” noted Twitter user @NicoleRedness in reference to the fact that the picture ProPublica obtained of the Paolettas singing shows them reading lyrics from their phones.

Paoletta has a long history with Thomas. His bio at the boutique D.C. law firm Schaerr Jaffer notes that he “played a key role in the successful confirmation effort of United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.”

During Thomas’ confirmation, a “mid-level bureaucrat” named Kaye Savage was quoted in a book about Thomas saying she’d seen Playboy pinups on his apartment walls.

David Brock, a conservative journalist/operative at the time claimed in a 2001 memoir that he played a prominent role in distorting the story around Thomas’ confirmation. Brock claimed that he’d given Savage an affidavit to sign recanting the story, and threatened Savage that he’d release embarrassing details from sealed court records about her divorce if she didn’t. According to Brock, the information about the divorce came from Thomas, who communicated the information to Brock through a close friend: Mark Paoletta. 

“It’s not true,” Paoletta told the Guardian when the book came out. “Justice Thomas did not ask me to pass along any derogatory information to David Brock about Kaye Savage.”

“Brock stands by his story,” noted journalist Jane Mayer in a 2002 review of Brock’s book for the New York Review of Books.

In April of this year, Paoletta embarked on another quixotic defense of Thomas. Paloetta wrote an article in the National Review where he argued that Thomas wasn’t in the wrong for not disclosing trips, essentially because he didn’t have to. 

Paoletta mentioned in the piece that he’d worked on securing Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation, co-edited a book about him, represented his wife Ginni in the January 6th inquiry, and is close friends with Thomas.

What he didn’t mention then was that he’d traveled on at least two trips with Thomas benefactor Harlan Crow and the Supreme Court Justice, including one to Indonesia, which were mentioned in the article.

Or that he appears in a hazy, soft-focus, photorealistic painting of Thomas, Crow, and others on a trip to the Adirondacks.

On August. 31, Thomas updated his financial disclosure to acknowledge his trips with Crow.

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