Virginia "Ginni" Thomas wants to clear up a few things about January 6.
She did not help organize the White House rally that preceded the riot at the Capitol. She did attend the rally, but got cold and left early. And most importantly, in her view, her involvement with the event has no bearing on the work of her husband, Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.
A veteran conservative operator, critics have for decades charged that her political activity poses an ethics conundrum for the justice. She was keen to dispel misperceptions and shared fresh details about her professional life.
"Like so many married couples, we share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America," Thomas told the Washington Free Beacon. "But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn't discuss his work with me, and I don't involve him in my work."
Though Thomas has taken steps to adjust her public profile, such as deleting her Facebook page, she has no plans to curtail her professional activities.
In a wide-ranging interview, Thomas spoke for the first time about a series of recent news reports linking her with the events of Jan. 6 and alleging Mrs. Thomas's activities create a conflict of interest for her husband and undermine the Supreme Court's standing with the public.
"If you are going to be true to yourself and your professional calling, you can never be intimidated, chilled, or censored by what the press or others say," she said.
In January, the Supreme Court rebuffed former president Donald Trump's request to quash a House subpoena for White House records relating to the 2020 elections. Justice Thomas was the only member of the Court to publicly note his dissent.
That datapoint, combined with incomplete public accounts of Mrs. Thomas's advocacy related to the 2020 election, spawned a push for the justice to recuse himself from future cases related to the events of Jan. 6.
Thomas told the Free Beacon that she was in the crowd at the Ellipse rally for a short time the morning of Jan. 6, but returned home before Trump took the stage at noon. Her presence at the Ellipse during the morning was the extent of her activity, she said.
"I was disappointed and frustrated that there was violence that happened following a peaceful gathering of Trump supporters on the Ellipse on Jan. 6," Thomas told the Free Beacon. "There are important and legitimate substantive questions about achieving goals like electoral integrity, racial equality, and political accountability that a democratic system like ours needs to be able to discuss and debate rationally in the political square. I fear we are losing that ability."
In January and February, the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine each published longform pieces alleging that Thomas had a much larger role in the events of Jan. 6. The Times in particular cast Thomas as an important trouble-shooter in the leadup to the rally, reporting she acted as an intermediary among bickering activists organizing the event.
Citing second-hand information from organizer Dustin Stockton, the Times reported that Thomas acted as a peacemaker between two feuding faction leaders—Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots and Amy Kremer of Women for America First—convincing both to participate in the rally for the sake of shared goals.
Thomas, Martin, and Kremer each reject that claim.
"I played no role with those who were planning and leading the Jan. 6 events," Thomas said. "There are stories in the press suggesting I paid or arranged for buses. I did not. There are other stories saying I mediated feuding factions of leaders for that day. I did not."
One of the factions Thomas supposedly negotiated with wasn't even involved with organizing the rally. Martin's Tea Party groups were not sponsors of the Ellipse event, nor did her organizations spend money to support the effort.
"We condemn the violence. We are shocked, outraged, and saddened at the turn of events on January 6," Martin said in a statement.
Kremer contested the allegation about Thomas in texts exchanged with Times reporter Danny Hakim, one of the Thomas story's two authors. Those exchanges happened on background, meaning Hakim could not attribute any statement to Kremer in the Times story.
After the article was published, Kremer gave Hakim an on-the-record statement rejecting the allegation that Thomas acted as a peace-broker for her and Martin. Hakim tweeted the statement, but the story was never updated online and remained unchanged as of the publication of this story.
Kremer told the Free Beacon that the Times disregarded her background denials in order to push a false narrative about Thomas. And she said it was "egregious" that the Times did not update its story when she issued an on-the-record comment that cast doubt on one of the article's biggest claims.
"The NYT seems to be more of an activist organization than a media outlet focused on real journalism," Kremer told the Free Beacon. "They certainly have no regard for the truth."
"We do not go into detail on our editorial process," a Times spokesman told the Free Beacon. "Our reporting was fair and accurate and we stand behind it."
Longtime Thomas confidant Mark Paoletta was the first to reveal the Hakim-Kremer texts.
There was a skirmish among Justice Thomas's sprawling network of ex-clerks after John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Trump on tactics for stopping certification of the results, sent emails to a listserv called Thomas Clerk World casting doubt on the integrity of the election. The exchanges appeared in part in the New Yorker and the Times.
Helgi Walker, who clerked for the justice and practices in the Washington, D.C., offices of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said the exchanges were uncharacteristic for the listserv and that bad feeling hasn't lingered. Law clerk networks are generally friendly and intimate, but the Thomas clerk network is famously close.
"The Thomas clerk family—and we do refer to it as a family because that's what it is—is one of the most special and close-knit groups I have ever been a part of," Walker told the Free Beacon. "It really was a blip, and our group is strong—stronger than ever."
The Times story opens with two memoranda from a conservative advocacy group, the Council for National Policy, that outlined pressure tactics for influencing Republican lawmakers ahead of certification and damage control strategies after the Jan. 6 riot. The article billed Thomas as a "leader" of the council who had "taken on a prominent role at the council during the Trump years," noting she was appointed to the organization's advisory board in 2019.
Thomas told the Free Beacon that she played no role in crafting either document. Thomas says she has not even seen them as of this writing, nor did she disseminate them when they were released. She said both the Times and the New Yorker overstated her connection to the council.
"As a member of their c4 board, candidly, I must admit that I do not attend many of those separate meetings, nor do I attend many of their phone calls they have," Thomas told the Free Beacon. "At CNP, I have moderated a session here and there. I delivered some remarks there once too."
The Council for National Policy board is one of several Thomas serves on, consistent with her decades of experience in movement conservative politics.
Ginni Thomas, then Ginni Lamp, came to Washington with the Reagan revolution in the early 1980s as an aide to ex-Rep. Hal Daub (R., Neb.), a conservative lawmaker for an Omaha-based seat. Her political bent comes from her parents, Donald and Marjorie Lamp, who were active in intra-GOP squabbles between the ascendant conservative wing and the genteel, moderate establishment.
Reaganites often burnish credentials by talking up their connections with his ill-fated primary challenge to then-president Gerald Ford in 1976. Marjorie Lamp was an RNC delegate for Reagan in 1968. Thomas herself volunteered in the finance area on Reagan's '76 campaign under Bay Buchanan as a student at Mt. Vernon College.
"I have always been my mother's daughter, as my mother loved America and worked hard in the political lane to preserve American exceptionalism with candidates and causes," Thomas said. "She ran for office when I was a teenager."
From Daub's office, Thomas would go on to positions as a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a top aide to then-House majority leader Dick Armey (R., Texas), and a personnel maven at the Heritage Foundation for the incoming George W. Bush administration.
These days she's a connector for movement conservatives from her perch at Liberty Consulting, a business she founded 12 years ago. Sometimes cast as a lobbying outfit, Thomas stressed that she has not been paid to lobby or influence legislation since her tenure at the Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s. Rather, her goal at Liberty is to build coalitions among like-minded Washington professionals and grassroots activists around the country.
"Besides coalition work and bridge-building, I help provide friendly, constructive advice and counsel on messaging or projects that would appeal to the public," she said of her consulting work.
Just as Liberty Consulting does not lobby on legislation, Thomas emphasized neither she nor her firm does work of a legal nature.
Mrs. Thomas sought ethics guidance from Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The judge advised it was fine to be openly involved in politics, so long as she took no position on a discrete case before the Supreme Court.
"The legal lane is my husband's—I never much enjoyed reading briefs and judicial opinions anyway and am quite happy to stay out of that lane," Thomas told the Free Beacon. "We do not discuss cases until opinions are public—and even then, our discussions have always been very general and limited to public information."
Beyond consulting work, Thomas holds—or has held—advisory board positions for a number of organizations, such as the Steamboat Institute or the Library of Congress Trust Fund. Saving brief stints on the board of trustees at Hillsdale College and the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, she has never served on a policy-making body for a nonprofit.
Advisory board service does not require Thomas to keep apprised of operational details or day-to-day activities. Thomas and her colleagues say her role is limited to giving advice, periodically, on coalition-building.
A representative example, and one which the New Yorker made much of, is Thomas's service on the advisory board of the National Association of Scholars. The association is a conservative group whose mission is to "preserve the liberal arts and protect academic freedom," according to its website.
The National Association of Scholars filed an amicus brief in a landmark challenge to affirmative action the Supreme Court will hear this fall. The lawsuit accuses Harvard University and the University of North Carolina of discriminating against Asian applicants to vindicate their race preferences. The association's amicus brief backs the anti-affirmative action plaintiffs.
The New Yorker, and a steady clip of follow-on pieces in various publications, argued Mrs. Thomas's advisory position with an organization filing amicus briefs in the High Court could create a conflict of interest—or the appearance of a conflict—that requires Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the Harvard case.
But National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood said Thomas had nothing to do with the court filing.
In a March 6 article, Wood said Thomas's role at the association has been limited to "efforts to identify and reach out to grassroots supporters." Advisory board members, Wood wrote, offer "counsel from time to time when I call on them." Both Wood and Thomas say they have never discussed the association's amicus brief in the Harvard case.
"My role with them has been limited to what [Wood] wrote about—ways to identify more and reach out to grassroots supporters," Thomas told the Free Beacon. "I had no idea they were doing any amicus brief work. He would never talk with me about that as he understands my separate work from legal matters."
As a Washington-based consultant and activist, Thomas also participates in private discussion groups, including one called Groundswell, which has been featured in reporting about her work.
The New Yorker describes Groundswell as "a secretive invitation-only network." But Rachel Bovard, senior policy director at the Conservative Partnership Institute and a Groundswell participant, told the Free Beacon that Groundswell is one of many private venues, left and right, where like-minded professionals share ideas and coordinate strategies.
"There are dozens of coalition meetings that take place in Washington every week," Bovard said. "It's just ridiculous that they focus in on her meeting as opposed to many others. It's a cyclical sexist smear. This isn't the first time they've made the same reductive argument about Ginni Thomas."
Bovard and another Groundswell participant, J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said their group lobbied the Trump administration to make certain personnel changes, as the Times and New Yorker report.
Though the group once met with Trump, participants acknowledge—and a large body of Trump-era reporting establishes—that they had limited reach. Beltway Republicans controlled White House appointments for much of Trump's tenure and kept conservatives at arm's length.
"Groundswell is just a discussion group that would move the names of people who supported the president to the personnel office," Adams told the Free Beacon. "It's hardly controversial. It's the way the system is supposed to work, right?"
Some legal ethics experts do see a potential conflict in Ginni and Clarence Thomas's work. Stephen Gillers, a judicial ethics guru at New York University Law School who the New Yorker tapped for its story, said ethics rules counsel recusal where there is an appearance of a conflict. Gillers went on to say that Thomas's "reprehensible" behavior has "hurt the Supreme Court and the administration of justice."
Gillers came out a different way in an amicus brief for a 2013 Supreme Court case. The brief addressed arguments that a lower court judge, Judge Stephen Reinhardt, should have recused himself from a same-sex marriage case because his wife was involved at an earlier stage.
The Gillers amicus brief said Reinhardt's critics were pushing a retrograde "marriage penalty" and accused detractors of "vastly overstating" his wife's involvement, as Thomas and her allies say is true of her activities.
Reinhardt was subsequently disgraced by a separate ethics quandary when a clerk accused him of sexual harassment. Gillers said his amicus brief and New Yorker quotes are "entirely consistent" on several main points.
"The amicus brief and my New Yorker quotes are entirely consistent on these main points," Gillers told the Free Beacon. "The First Amendment protects the advocacy of both Ripston and Thomas. Ethics rules that bind their husbands do not bind them. And under those rules, the advocacy of neither required their husbands' recusal because we do not attribute their advocacy to their husbands. I believe this is the correct policy. Instead of rules and laws, we have relied for centuries on a measure of self-restraint. That has worked until now. What the New Yorker article and other news sources tell us is that in the singular case of Virginia Thomas, it has not worked."
The Reinhardt affair also demonstrates that the Thomas's situation is hardly unique in the insular and clubby world of elite law practice, frequent claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
Judge Silberman noted judicial spouses are often active in politics and law practice in a Free Beacon interview. A judicial colleague on a different appeals court, Judge Jane Roth, was married to William Roth, the longtime Republican senator from Delaware, he said. Another colleague, Judge Nina Pillard, is married to the ACLU's national legal director.
"If you did a study of all federal judges today to find out whether spouses are involved in politics—either as political figures of their own or active in some way—you'd find a plethora," Silberman told the Free Beacon. "These concerns no longer apply. Feminism broke it down."