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Bill Straub: If you’ll believe anything, let Mitch McConnell sell you this dead — really dead — parrot

Mitch McConnell is trying to sell you a dead parrot.

Let me explain.

The British comedy troupe Monty Python developed a famous, or infamous, sketch some years ago about a dissatisfied pet shop customer, John Cleese, who sought to return a parrot, identified as a Norwegian Blue, he had purchased a half hour earlier.

The bird, it seems, was dead and only appeared viable at the time of sale because it had been nailed upright to its perch.

“It’s passed on,” Cleese complained. “This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone on to see its maker. This is a late parrot. It is stiff, bereft of life. It rests in peace.”

But the store clerk, Michael Palin, vigorously disagreed with that conclusion, even though Cleese sought to prove his point by, among other things, pounding the bird on the table like a hammer.

“That’s not dead, it’s resting,” Palin insisted. He went on to say the parrot’s noticeable lack of vitality could be attributed the fact that Cleese “stunned him just as he was waking up.” It remained prostrate because “the Norwegian Blue prefers keeping on its back.”

The absurdity ended, in typical Python fashion, with Palin declaring he never wanted to be a pet shop clerk. Instead, he always aspired to become a lumberjack, thus proceeding to another famous, or infamous, sketch.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Which brings us to McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who took to the floor on Tuesday to declare the overt financial peccadilloes of several seated Supreme Court justices, particularly but not limited to Clarence Thomas, was a pish, a posh, a trifle, a mere bag of shells, move along, nothing to see here, and that the only reason Democrats and others are making hay over these almost non-existent dalliances is they don’t like some of the high court’s rulings, particularly Dobbs, the abortion case.

They are, he roared, or whatever an 81-year-old man in delicate health can approach that’s close to roaring, offering only “silly personal attacks.”

“Every five minutes, the Democratic Party wants to give lectures about upholding our institutions and protecting democracy,” McConnell said. “But just as often, they find a way to undertake a reckless attack against the courts and the rule of law.”

McConnell went on to declare that he is “proud of how our nation’s highest court has weathered these latest baseless attempts to attack its authority.”

“I believe in the integrity and honesty of all nine justices — all nine of them,” he said. “They should pay the partisan grandstanding no mind at all.”

Well, good for Mitch.

Let’s note that McConnell’s declarations confirm that he believes the Supreme Court is above reproach, at least as long as they churn out decisions that he favors, and that, somehow, criticism of an individual justice or the court as a whole is an attack on “the rule of law.”

It’s understandable why Mitch might utter this nonsense given that he is personally responsible for sticking a bunch of hacks on the bench, transforming it into a right-wing party house that exhibits little respect for either the public or the Constitution.

At least two justices McConnell maneuvered onto the court – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – lied in order to attain their exalted positions, feigning that they believed in precedent in regard to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, establishing a right to abortion, and then overturning it at their first opportunity in Dobbs.

So McConnell wants you to have respect of a court with established liars. But skip all that a moment and you’ll find how much he is trying to pawn off a dead Norwegian Blue on you.

Thomas has not proved meticulous in his record-keeping duties, an obligation established to assure that justices aren’t rendering decisions based on connections or who might be padding their wallets.

Clarence, it seems, just plum forgot to report literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses provided to him by a friend, Harlan Crow, a real estate developer with a net worth of about $500 million who has undertaken a second career as the justice’s sugar daddy, and there’s no way around it.

Pro Publica, an irreplaceable news source, reported last month that Thomas, over the course of more than 20 years, “accepted luxury trips” from Crow, a right-wing activist, and failed to report them in his financial disclosure forms. The instances included trips aboard Crow’s private jet, globe-wide cruises on his yacht, the Michaela Rose, and long stays at his private estate, Bohemian Grove, in California, where they apparently smoked big cigars and thought big thoughts.

Thomas failed to properly report any of this. The Ethics in Government Act requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to annually disclose gifts they receive.

But hold on, we’re not done.

Pro Publica followed up that report with a claim that that in 2014 a firm owned by Crow purchased, for $133,000, property owned by Thomas and his family in Savannah, GA. Crow’s company agreed to renovate a home on the site – the place where Thomas’s mother resides.

Again, no report.

Finally, and this is a whopper, Pro Publica broke a story that Crow paid the private school tuition for Mark Martin, a Thomas grandnephew. It just so happens that, in addition to the blood relationship, the justice also serves as the young man’s legal guardian. All told, Pro Publica said, the total tuition tab has amounted to more than $100,000.

And for those keeping score at home, Crow has had at least one case before the Supreme Court during Thomas’s tenure – a firm he didn’t have controlling interest in was involved in a copyright dispute with an architectural firm. The court declined to hear the case.

Thomas isn’t alone playing in the court’s muck. Out in Colorado, a firm that included Gorsuch as a limited partner sold a parcel to the chief executive of Greenberg Trauing, the nation’s ninth largest law firm with plenty of action before the court, for $1.8 million. The deal came about a month after Gorsuch became a justice and netted him at least $250,000. The amount was reported but he failed to reveal the money came from a Greenberg Trauing executive.

And a whistleblower revealed that Jane Roberts, the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, has pulled in a cool $10.3 million in commissions serving as a talent recruiter for high-powered law firms At least one of those outfits argued a case before Roberts after paying his wife hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And we still don’t know what happened to the loan debt racked up by Kavanaugh, reaching as high as $200,000, which magically disappeared after he was nominated to the Supreme Court.

Now all this might suggest, at the very least, that the Supreme Court, which has seen its public standing tumble in recent months, might have an ethics problem.

Sen. Sheldon Whiteside, D-RI, who this week chaired a hearing on the issue, thinks so, asserting that the “justices read the ethics rules in unique and eccentric ways, and when they’re caught out of bounds they refuse to allow any investigation of the facts.”

“Until there is an honest ethics process at the Supreme Court, these messes will continue,” he said. “The Court has conclusively proven that it cannot police itself.”

But Mitch continues to argue that parrot ain’t dead, essentially assuming the view of Chico Marx in Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
“This time, the left and some of their media allies want the American people to gasp in horror — in horror — that one Supreme Court Justice vacations with his friends, that another one sold his house when he moved, and that Chief Justice Roberts’ wife has a career outside the home.”

It’s more than that and he knows it. It’s worth remembering the story of Justice Abe Fortas who was already on the court when he was nominated by his old pal, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, to be elevated to the position of chief justice. Concerns about Fortas’s ties to Johnson understandably led to a filibuster and his withdrawal. But he ultimately resigned from the court entirely in 1969 when it was revealed that he had accepted a $20,000 retainer for unspecified duties from a friend, financier Louis Wolfson, in 1966, a sum worth about $180,000 today.

Wolfson at the time was under investigation for securities violations.

Fortas returned the money that same year, 1966, to avoid the perception of
impropriety and recused himself from any high court case that might involve Wolfson. Still, he was basically forced to step down.

Now let’s look at our scorecards. Fortas took $20,000 ($180,000) from a friend, quickly returned it and recused himself from any case involving Wolfson. Thomas over many years has accepted, it’s fair to say, hundreds of thousands of dollars in perks from a friend, kept it hidden and has given no indication of paying any of it back.

And his wife, Ginni, tried to overthrow the government.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell declares that he believes in “the integrity and
honesty of all nine justices,” including, presumably, Thomas.

Now that’s some Grade A dead parrot selling.

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One Comment

  1. Jeff Nolan says:

    Always enjoy your articles but was curious on why “ ProPublica “ ( and yourself ) leave out investigating liberal justices . Leaving out for example Justice Sonia Sotomayor makes millions from her publishing company and didn’t recuse herself as I understand Justice Breyer ( another random house author did ) over a case and if it should be heard ? For the record I don’t think either Justice did anything to influence decisions on the court . Just need to be fair . Be well .

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