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The Ginni Thomas Problem

Virginia 'Ginni' Thomas—right-wing activist and financial backer and wife of SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas—
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

After many months of whispered possibilities—Will she be subpoenaed? Will she take the Fifth? Will she stonewall?—Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, appeared for more than four hours on Thursday before the January 6 Committee and—according to her attorney—answered all their questions without objection.

In the process, she doubled down on her oft-repeated lie that the 2020 election was stolen, even while her lawyer described Thomas’ activities around January 6 as “minimal and mainstream.”

For those hoping for a big breakthrough or dramatic conclusion to the Ginni Thomas saga, the moment likely was disappointing. After all, Thomas has been implicated, at least tangentially, in the effort to overturn the election through her texts and emails to some key players, including Mark Meadows and John Eastman.

How are we to best understand what role she truly played and how much culpability she might have?

Let’s first dispel some common erroneous assumptions about Ginni Thomas. Then let’s look at what we know about her rather alarming and extremist views, her connections to January 6 and what it likely adds or does not add up to.

Ginni Thomas is a radical force in her own right

For those who aren’t too familiar with her activism, it might be easy to assume that the reason Ginni Thomas matters is because of her marriage to Justice Clarence Thomas, a hard core originalist on the Supreme Court and darling of the right. But Ginni Thomas is herself a very active and highly influential D.C. powerbroker.

According to reporting by Slate, her consulting firm helps open doors in Washington, and she has helped launch the career of right-wing media superstars such as Dan Bongino.

Earlier this year, The New York Times did an extensive write-up of Thomas’ political activities. She sits on the nine-member board of the Council for National Policy, a highly influential right-wing organization whose 400 members include leaders from the Federalist Society, the NRA and the Family Research Council.

The CNP itself issued a November 2020 “action steps” document instructing members to pressure Republican lawmakers into challenging the election and appointing alternate slates of electors. (Note that asking lawmakers to do this is very different than organizing fake sets of electors on your own.)

With the help of Steve Bannon, Thomas founded a group called Groundswell, which hosts a weekly roundtable for influential conservatives.

She has also known Mark Meadows for some time and developed a personal friendship with him, even awarding him with an “Impact Award” in 2019 while he was still a Congressman—an honor she hands out once a year to a conservative voice she wishes to highlight.

Ginni Thomas was among the people Donald Trump sought to enlist to help win over the far-right. According to the Times piece, Trump courted Ginni Thomas openly, but after Thomas used that favoritism to gain regular access to the Oval Office, “her insistent policy and personnel suggestions so aggravated aides that one called her a ‘wrecking ball’ while others put together an opposition-research-style report on her.”

In short, she was no stranger to the White House and had access to its highest officials as of the time of the election of 2020 and its aftermath.

She used that access to press Meadows to overturn the election.

Reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Postobtained leaked copies of their text messages. “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!” Thomas implored Meadows while reminding him that he was “the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice.”

She continued, “The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Ginni Thomas is a kooky conspiracy peddler

One other thing was immediately clear from the release of text messages between Thomas and her friend Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff: Ginni Thomas is a deep state conspiracy wackadoodle.

Here are some choice morsels.

Right after the election, in a November 5, 2020 message to Meadows, Thomas quoted a passage that had circulated on right-wing websites: “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.”

This was similar to a theory popular within the QAnon conspiracy movement that claimed falsely in late 2020 that officials such as Hillary Clinton and Adam Schiff had been rounded up and sent to Guantanamo and executed for treason, which obviously never happened.

Thomas also sent Meadows a link to a YouTube video labeled “TRUMP STING w CIA Director Steve Pieczenik, The Biggest Election Story in History, QFS-BLOCKCHAIN.” The link is no longer up on YouTube because it violated the platform’s false election information rules.

Pieczenik was a former State Department official turned far-right commentator who in the past also falsely claimed that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, was a “false-flag” operation to press for more gun control.

Thomas also bought into the fervor that underlay the Maricopa County, Arizona election “fraud-it” overseen by the infamous Cyber Ninjas firm. That effort wound up turning up nothing on fraud but did award even more votes to Joe Biden.

Thomas texted Meadows about a popular conspiracy theory that drove the auditors there to investigate ballots using UV lights: “Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states,” she texted Meadows.

Not surprisingly, Thomas found a champion in fellow conspiracy peddler, Sidney Powell, whom she pressed Meadows to support as “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.

In many ways, Thomas and Powell share a similar arc: Once their incendiary yet baseless claims came to light, one in a remarkable and cringeworthy press conference by Powell and the other in a series of leaked texts by Thomas, others began to put distance between themselves and the two extremist agitators.

Protected political speech or conspiracy to overturn the election?

Ginni Thomas’s actual involvement in the planning, organizing and actions around January 6 are a good example of the difficulty in moving forward legally against certain individuals.

We know that Thomas sent multiple texts to Meadows. But merely advocating that he take action isn’t the same as planning with him to do so.

Thomas also is known to have emailed with John Eastman, but so far those only look like invitations for Eastman to come speak to her group about the election and the pending court cases. According to an organizer for Women for America First, which held the permit for the Ellipse rally, Thomas played a key “peacemaker” role on January 6 between feuding factions to limit divisions ahead of the day.

And she even reportedly wrote to lawmakers in swing states of Wisconsin and Arizona urging them to undo their certifications of the elections, using a form letter generator to send the letters.

But for all her wild theories and communications with key players, there is no smoking gun so far when it comes to her being part of the planning and execution of the attempted coup. There simply isn’t any law against spreading false information and urging action, however misguided, wrong or even illegal, by government officials.

Thomas would only become part of a greater conspiracy if there were evidence she had agreed to a concrete plan, and as far as anyone has seen, there is no such evidence, at least so far.

The Real Problem Is Clarence Thomas

Ginni Thomas has emphasized that she and her husband have an “iron clad rule in our home” not to discuss any cases, including any of the legal challenges to the 2020 election.

She claims Justice Clarence Thomas is “uninterested in politics” and that she generally does not “discuss with him my day-to-day work in politics, the topics I am working on, who I am calling, emailing, texting or meeting.”

She claims that her husband was “complete;y unaware of my texts with Mark Meadows” until they were leaked “while he was in a hospital bed fighting an infection,” she added pointedly.

But come on.

The problem is already apparent because Thomas feels the need to make these disclaimers in the first place. The question isn’t whether Justice Thomas was aware or not of her political activities, which would be impossible to prove, but whether her involvement gives the appearance of conflict and diminishes the respect the public has for the Supreme Court itself.

Ginni Thomas was so busy trying to push forward cases that might overturn the election that it was inevitable some of them would wind up before her husband. For that reason alone, he should have recused himself but did not.

“When your spouse is conversing with people who have some control over litigation to challenge an election,” said Professor Amanda Frost, a law professor at American University in Washington, “you shouldn’t be sitting on the Supreme Court deciding that election or any aspect of it.”

Indeed, Thomas was the sole dissenting voice on the Court in a case involving whether Trump would have to turn over presidential records relating to January 6, some of which might have mentioned or involved his wife’s communications to people like John Eastman and Mark Meadows.

That is not just a hypothetical conflict, it is an actual one.

So long as Justice Thomas maintains the indefensible position that he need not recuse himself from cases where his wife and her allies have an interest, this problem will not go away. But unfortunately, there is no law or code of ethics that can force Justice Thomas to do so.

The next best thing is to bring her activity and her communications out into the open so that the public can know what she has been up to and what apparent conflicts exist with her husband on the Court. That could have the longer term effect of making her rather radioactive to have in the room or on a text thread, dimming her star and her utility for the right.

In short, if Ginni Thomas can be publicly relegated to the ranks of the discredited “kraken” team she has lauded, that might finally clip her wings—at least for a time.