A day before the 2020 presidential election, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas mugged for the camera wearing a Trump baseball cap with her friend Connie Hair, chief of staff to GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, at an event supporting the then-President in pictures posted on Facebook at the time.
A month later, in her now-infamous texts to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, referred to Hair and claims about election fraud while urging Meadows to fight the election result.
Around that same time, Hair’s boss, Gohmert, filed or supported two lawsuits challenging the election that eventually landed before the Supreme Court.
Ginni Thomas’ years-long relationship with Hair, including social outings that Clarence Thomas attended, as well as her texting with Meadows add another dimension to an ongoing debate over whether her husband should recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection, especially when his wife is closely aligned to people who advocated overturning the election.
To be sure, Thomas and Hair were voicing their opinions on the election. At the same time, however, Hair was a top aide to a congressman who would file or sign on to election litigation that landed before the court where Thomas sits. And Hair herself posted on Facebook about the need to fight in court over the election.
“Was on a call with the Trump campaign manager and legal folks for a briefing this morning. WE ARE SEEING THIS THROUGH TO THE END OF THE COURT/COUNT BATTLE,” Hair posted on November 7, four days after the election. And on November 21, Hair posted: “Massive amounts of voter fraud in big cities throughout the contested states.”
It’s rare for the spouse of a Supreme Court justice to be so politically active, and legal ethicists say a line may be crossed when Ginni Thomas’ interests collide with her husband’s work. Some say the reputation of the Supreme Court is at stake.
“Mrs. Thomas has a First Amendment right to speak publicly and forcefully on issues that might come before the Supreme Court without thereby forcing recusal of her husband,” said Stephen Gillers of NYU School of Law. “But in the current situation, her interests are caught up in cases that could come before the court.”
Gillers believes that Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from any upcoming cases concerning the Capitol attack. Following the revelation of the Meadows texts, Democratic senators have introduced legislation meant to address questions of recusal and other ethics issues.
Washington is a town where powerful people frequently hobnob, and Ginni Thomas maintains she kept her conservative political activism separate from her marriage. Her husband has not commented publicly on calls for him to recuse – or even resign – after his wife’s texts to Meadows were revealed.
A friend of the Thomases who is familiar with the situation contends Ginni Thomas and Hair say they did not talk about specific cases that Gohmert was involved in and that Hair did not know about Gohmert’s lawsuits before they were filed.
“Hair is a friend of Ginni Thomas,” the source said. “They had a general concern about the election.”
In the end, the high court took neither Gohmert’s lawsuit against then-Vice President Mike Pence, nor a case from Texas that Gohmert supported against states that Donald Trump lost.
Ginni Thomas declined to comment to CNN through a lawyer.
Hair didn’t respond to emailed questions about her interactions with the Thomases, nor did Gohmert’s office.
Earlier this month, Gohmert defended the ethics of both Ginni and Clarence Thomas on the House floor, saying Ginni Thomas’ activism shouldn’t put pressure on the justice to recuse from any cases. Thomas returned to the bench in person at the Supreme Court this week, after being hospitalized for an illness around the same time that the news of his wife’s communications with the Trump White House about the election broke.
“Now, Justice Thomas is being told he needs to recuse himself because he has a wife who thinks for herself. We can’t have that, these liberals say. Yet the hypocrisy rises higher and higher with every comment they make about Justice Thomas and/or his wife,” Gohmert said in his speech.
“What happened to the old ideas of liberals being these caring, compassionate people who would never judge one’s spouse by the acts or thoughts of the other?” Gohmert added. “Well, those have gone by the wayside, and we see exactly what is at play here.”
Ginni Thomas also has a close friendship with Meadows, and a case involving him landed before the Supreme Court in recent months. In that case, the court allowed the release of hundreds of documents from the Trump White House to the House select committee investigating January 6. Clarence Thomas was the only one to publicly dissent.
The documents in that case did not include Meadows’ texts with Ginni Thomas that he had voluntarily turned over to the committee. The committee has said it will seek to interview Ginni Thomas, CNN has reported.
Dinners with friends
The Thomases have kept in contact with Hair for years, according to several photos and messages shared on Facebook by Hair and others and obtained by CNN.
In 2016, Hair posted about attending a Colbie Caillat concert, sending her thanks for a “fun” evening to Ginni Thomas. Hair posed for photos with Clarence Thomas and at dinner with him, his wife and others the night of the concert, according to Facebook posts.
Hair has worked in Gohmert’s office since 2010, according to congressional staffing records.
In 2017, she took a new round of pictures with Clarence and Ginni Thomas, this time inside the justice’s chambers. That day, January 20, 2017, Clarence Thomas had sworn in Pence as vice president. In her Facebook post, Hair calls the Thomases “great friends.”
And in 2019, Hair took part in a meeting at the White House with Trump and Ginni Thomas to discuss hiring more Trump loyalists in his administration, according to a senior Trump administration official.
Over the past decade, Ginni Thomas and Hair’s photos together and posts tagging each other are numerous.
Then after the 2020 election and January 6 Capitol riot, Hair on her Facebook wall shared coverage of Clarence Thomas dissenting on a Supreme Court election case, writing, “GOD BLESS HIM.” The case was a too-late attempt by Pennsylvania Republicans to challenge the state’s use of mail-in ballots, and Thomas expressed a fear that mail-in balloting could allow for fraud in future elections.
And in text messages to Meadows, which CNN obtained last month, Ginni Thomas quotes Hair in November 2020 as she implores the Trump White House to stick with its claims of election fraud.
“This war is psychological. PSYOP. It’s what I did in the military. They are using every weapon they have to try to make us quit… It is fake, fraud and if people would take a deep breath and look at things through that filter we will see this through and win,” Ginni Thomas texted Meadows on November 14, 2020.
She then cites Hair’s name in the text, implying the words came from her friend. The source familiar with the Thomases said Ginni Thomas was cutting and pasting Hair’s own words from another text chain, to send to Meadows.
Gohmert headed to SCOTUS
Soon after these texts, Gohmert’s office took part in two cases that challenged the election result at the Supreme Court.
First, Texas’ attorney general went straight to the high court to sue Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin – all swing states Joe Biden had won – claiming they had conducted their elections unconstitutionally.
The case theoretically could have given the Supreme Court the power to throw out the presidential election result. Gohmert was one of 126 Republican members of Congress to sign on to an amicus brief supporting Texas before the high court.
On December 11, just days after the case had been filed, a majority of justices rejected the attempt, saying Texas had not shown it had the legal right to challenge how another state conducts its election.
Clarence Thomas signed on to a two-sentence statement, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, arguing a procedural point that the court should not have dismissed the case outright because it fell under the court’s “original jurisdiction.” But importantly, Thomas and Alito did note that they would grant no other relief to Texas in the case.
A source close to Thomas believes that the justice’s position on that case and others shows he was not swayed by his wife’s interests.
Even with that swift loss at the Supreme Court, Gohmert’s office wasn’t finished aiming election challenges at the high court.
In late December, Gohmert tried with a case of his own. The congressman sued Pence directly. The lawsuit asked the court to force Pence to stop the Electoral College certification of Biden’s win.
That prompted Pence’s lawyers to speak up in court, asking a federal judge to dismiss Gohmert’s case. It was a crucial early moment of the vice president publicly defending his role of presiding over the Senate. Pence has stood by his position that the vice president couldn’t overturn the election and courts should not have either.
The Gohmert case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court on January 6, the day of the Electoral College certification.
“Our nation stands at the crossroads of a Constitutional crisis fraught by chaos and turmoil brought into play by a viral plague, anti-democratic interference from domestic and foreign sources, and hastily enacted State voting measures ostensibly placed to protect voters from catching the plague,” Gohmert’s filing said.
The court denied its request the next day, with no dissents noted.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, Ryan Nobles, Zachary Cohen and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.