Supremely Sus | Crooked Media
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April 25, 2023
What A Day
Supremely Sus

In This Episode

  • There are growing calls for the Supreme Court to adopt stronger ethics rules. It follows revelations earlier this month that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose gifts and lavish vacations paid by a major Republican donor, along with a new report from Politico involving a real estate deal between Justice Neil Gorsuch and a law firm that had business before the high court. Jay Willis, editor-in-chief of Balls & Strikes, joins us to discuss what’s being done to address the allegations.
  • And in headlines: a Washington D.C. jury is deliberating seditious conspiracy charges against five members of the Proud Boys, the maker of Bud Light placed two executives on leave following backlash from its collaboration with a transgender influencer, and Ben of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has started a new cannabis venture.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, April 26th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day. For as long as we avoid seeing the new trailer for Timothée Chalamet as Wonka, we can still pretend it isn’t happening. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Out of sight, out of mind. Where I hope it stays forever.

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. It’s the same way we avoid processing his relationship with you know who. We’re not saying the name. [music break]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, the company that makes Bud Light suspended at least two executives amid anti-trans backlash over a recent collaboration. Plus, Ben from Ben and Jerry’s has launched a line of cannabis products. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: The most predictable. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Truly a natural next step. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, truly the most predictable next step I’ve ever heard. But first, Politico reported Tuesday that days after being confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch sold a 40 acre piece of property to the CEO of a law firm called Greenberg Traurig. That law firm has been involved in 22 cases before the court in the years since. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Though Gorsuch did disclose the investment income, he did not identify the buyer. Nor did he disclose the income as a real estate sale. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, double hmm. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Not liking the sounds of this. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Not sounding great. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Mmm mm. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And this news comes on the heels of recent reporting about Justice Clarence Thomas’a failure to disclose lavish vacations on private jets and yachts paid for by Harlan Crow, a major Republican donor. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Aren’t enough hmms in the world for that? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: There are not enough. It’s true. These reports have renewed calls for stronger disclosure requirements for Supreme Court justices, as well as calls for an investigation into any possible conflicts of interest that these justices or any others may not have revealed. On Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey became the first senator to call for Thomas’s resignation, stating his reputation is unsalvageable. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Fact. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Here to talk to us more about this is Jay Willis, editor in chief of Balls and Strikes, a website that covers the Supreme Court. Welcome, Jay. 

 

Jay Willis: Thank you so much for having me. I love to find new things to get upset about, and the Supreme Court is supplying more of those. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So on that note, there’s obviously been a lot of news about the Supreme Court justices crossing what we may have thought were ethical boundaries. But let’s start with uh Justice Clarence Thomas. Can you kind of give us a quick summary of the issues he’s faced lately in terms of disclosure? 

 

Jay Willis: So there’s been a lot of reporting the last couple of weeks, mostly from ProPublica, about Clarence Thomas’s relationship with Harlan Crow. He’s this right wing megadonor real estate billionaire, most like knockoff Batman villain name imaginable. [laughter] And it turns out he’s been flying Clarence Thomas around the world on private jets and for super yacht vacations for the better part of 20 years. And Supreme Court ethics rules require disclosures of gifts. These gifts were not disclosed. Clarence Thomas has had, like paperwork issues before. There was an incident maybe ten years ago where he had to go back and correct some of his disclosures because he hadn’t mentioned that his wife, Ginni Thomas, was paid six figures by the Heritage Foundation classic oopsie. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. [laugh] Who among us hasn’t forgotten six figures of income you know?

 

Jay Willis: It just slips through the cracks. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: There was also news of Justice Neil Gorsuch potentially violating some ethical boundaries. Can you detail what is happening there? Because now this is not only one justice, but there is another. 

 

Jay Willis: So Neil Gorsuch is in the news for selling a $1.8 million fishing lodge in Colorado to the CEO of a giant law firm whose lawyers practice regularly before the court. Timing details matter here. The House went under contract about a week after Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017 and after the House had been sitting on the market for two years. So the timing, like I’m going to be generous here, is weird. And the question of can they do that kind of gets tricky with Supreme Court justices because the next question you have to ask is, according to whom? So they’re not subject to a binding ethics code. They are subject to disclosure laws, but they’re pretty bare bones and they’re pretty opaque. For example, technically, Neil Gorsuch owns this property with his friends through what’s called an LLC, a limited liability company, which is the party that actually sold the cabin, the house. So Gorsuch’s disclosures do show that he sold his interest in the LLC, but that sort of obfuscates what’s actually happening to anyone without like a terminal case of lawyer brain, which is that he’s selling a house to like a big shot at a law firm. I’ll also note here that, like, this is the reason people use LLC’s to mask the actual parties and interests in big transactions like this. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: So it seems like what you’re saying is that there are technical ethical guidelines, but there are also kind of general moral guidelines that like we would expect them to follow and that they’re maybe technically not doing something wrong. But all of us would have liked to know that this guy should have been good information to have. 

 

Jay Willis: That’s right. Like defenses of Thomas and Gorsuch typically come from conservative law professors or notably other big law partners, and they zero in on the technical reasons that maybe possibly a specific nondisclosure wasn’t a violation of the relevant disclosure rules. But I think it’s really important to take a step back and look at like the big picture. We have a system in which very rich people keep finding ways to spend time with and give money to like minded Supreme Court justices. And the details are only made public years later by journalists. Controversial opinion, the system is bad. Like there’s a question of like, is Neil Gorsuch corrupt? I don’t know. But I don’t know because he has not been forthcoming about the information that I would need to make that judgment. Whether you blame him for hiding the ball or the existing rules for allowing him to do so. The problem for me and for everybody else who’s trying to decide if their Supreme Court is on the up and up. The problem is the same. You don’t actually have to believe that Neil Gorsuch is like literally accepting six figure bribes to understand that a quote unquote “disclosure system” that doesn’t actually reveal to the public relevant information like this is broken. It doesn’t work. Even if nothing shady happened in this transaction, this system is a bribe waiting to happen. It is cartoonishly easy to buy access to a Supreme Court justice, and it’s a pretty safe bet that if you cross your t’s and dot your i’s, no one’s going to find out about it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So just to clarify for everybody. Are there existing guidelines for Supreme Court justices and are they enforced at all? 

 

Jay Willis: Yeah. So they do have to make annual mandatory financial disclosures. But as you can see from this Gorsuch example, there are ways to sort of gloss over the details if it benefits you. For Clarence Thomas, he said afterwards that he had consulted with folks and determined that he didn’t have to disclose those particular gifts. And I’m very curious to hear who offered him that advice. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. [laugh]

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 

 

Jay Willis: And uh what they left off their disclosures– 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 

 

Jay Willis: –that prompted them to give him that advice. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Also, to your point, it’s like you should want to disclose. You should find that to be part of your duty. 

 

Jay Willis: Sure, why not? If there is nothing to hide, there should also be no problem with disclosure. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Now we’re at kind of a crossroads. There’s kind of like a talk about trying to hold these Supreme Court justices accountable. And now people are wondering, what does that look like? Is there anything the Senate Judiciary Committee can do? What are the options here in terms of holding justices accountable on the congressional side? 

 

Jay Willis: Yeah. So the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, he has invited John Roberts to testify about this. And you might be asking why not invite Clarence Thomas? He seems like the person [laughter] with maybe the most relevant information to share about all of them. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Jay Willis: [?] Clarence Thomas’s corruption. Well, Durbin said last week that he didn’t ask Thomas because he assumed Thomas would ignore the invitation, that he wouldn’t show up. [laughter] I just fundamentally don’t understand that. Right? [laughter]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I’m–

 

Jay Willis: In my view, if Clarence Thomas refuses to leave his billionaire buddies yacht for long enough to testify before the Senate about Supreme Court corruptions, that is the story. Like, I don’t know why we are preemptively rewarding Thomas for his presumed lawlessness. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: So we’ve heard Democrats calling for Chief Justice John Roberts himself to launch an investigation into Justice Thomas. I think you in particular have had some strong feelings about that. Do you want to talk to us a little bit about who’s calling for that and what that looks like? 

 

Jay Willis: So Chief Justice Roberts also famously, you know, called for the investigation into the Supreme Court leak last year, which yielded like a 20 page report that is like the jurisprudential equivalent of like a shrug emoji. I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in the Supreme Court’s ability to or interest in ferreting out its own corruption. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Jay Willis: Now coming from outside of the court. There are always calls for more stringent ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, and there are bills that have been introduced in this session of Congress about that. But even if we don’t think that those are going to get passed, as a practical matter, I really think Democrats have an opportunity here. Every week there’s a new headline about another Supreme Court justice who is like flailing around in a billionaire cash cube. You should be holding as many hearings on this as the calendar will allow. People don’t trust the Supreme Court right now because of what it’s doing. It’s issuing these radical right wing rulings. Its approval rating is at its lowest spot in years. In my view if the public learns that the justices are also taking a bunch of money from their right wing pals, that’s not going to help– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Jay Willis: –matters. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. 

 

Jay Willis: I think this is a winning issue, but Democrats have to have the courage to call the court what it is, which is the most important source of Republican power in this country and an opponent they have to defeat, not like a colleague they should be negotiating with. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: On this topic, what are these justices themselves saying? How have they been responding to this, have they expressed any remorse in any way? 

 

Jay Willis: No. Um. To the best of my knowledge. And like, as a practical matter, like, why would they? Right. They have life tenure. They can’t be removed. They have this job for as long as they feel like it. I think one Supreme Court justice in history has been impeached and that person was not removed from office. And we’re talking like well over a century and a half ago. Their job security is very strong unless and until Democrats like take seriously Supreme Court expansion as a fix to both the imbalance on the court and the outsized amount of power it wields over democracy. Not a lot is going to happen to them. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Jay, thank you so much for joining us. It’s always so great to have you on WAD. We really appreciate you coming back. 

 

Jay Willis: Thank you so much. Looking forward to next time. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. We will circle back on this topic when Clarence Thomas gets kicked off the Supreme Court. I wouldn’t hold your breath for that though. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Definitely not holding my breath. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We will I’m sure we’ll have more to say about this very soon, but that is the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Jury deliberations are underway in the seditious conspiracy case against five members of the Proud Boys, including their leader, Enrique Tarrio. At issue is whether or not Tarrio and the four others are guilty of plotting the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. The trial, which has been going on for more than three months, wrapped up closing arguments this week. Prosecutors showed the jury messages that the Proud Boys exchanged in the weeks and months leading up to the attack, some of which showed the group pushing Trump’s claim that the 2020 election had been stolen. In his closing argument, prosecutor Connor Mulroe said, quote, “These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump’s army. Fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it.” Meanwhile, defense attorneys claim that there was no plan or conspiracy in the January 6th attack and have said that the Justice Department is using Tarrio as a scapegoat for former President Donald Trump. If convicted of seditious conspiracy Tarrio and the four Proud Boys members could face up to 20 years in prison. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light, has placed at least two executives on leave after the beer was promoted by a transgender influencer. The move impacts Alissa Heinersheid, the vice president of marketing for Bud Light, and her boss, Daniel Blake. The decision comes after the company partnered with Dylan Mulvaney, a trans advocate and social media influencer, to promote the brand. That quickly led to calls from the right to boycott the beer. Or like Kid Rock, buying Bud Light just to post videos of themselves shooting the cans. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That is so crazy and so, like– 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Very cool. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So violent, what the hell? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Very, very cool. If you can’t make music anymore, I guess you just do this. [laugh] The, quote unquote “controversy” has led to a decline in sales in recent weeks, both because of the boycott itself and the company’s tepid response to the anti-trans faux outrage, including targeted harassment against Heinersheid. In a statement, Anheuser-Busch said, quote, “We have made some adjustments to streamline the structure of our marketing function to reduce layers so that our most senior marketers are more closely connected to every aspect of our brand’s activities. These steps will help us maintain focus on the things we do best. Brewing great beer for all consumers while always making a positive impact in our communities and on our country.” 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I have several thoughts about that. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It doesn’t mean anything. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: One. Yeah, that’s a lot of words to say absolutely nothing. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Uh two, brewing great beer? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: This is Anheuser-Busch. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: What are you talking about? Just show me– 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –a great beer. I’d love to see one. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: If we’re trying to, like, fix the marketing problem. Let’s start with taste. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Harry Belafonte, a civil rights activist and pioneering Black entertainer, died Tuesday morning of congestive heart failure in his New York home. He was 96 years old. Belafonte rose to fame in a segregated 1950s America, where he pushed past racial barriers with his activism, music, and films becoming the first Black man to win a Tony and Emmy and the first solo artist to sell more than 1 million copies of his album. You might remember him from his hit song Day-O (the Banana Boat song) from the 1956 album Calypso that reached the top Billboard album charts and stayed in the number one spot for 31 weeks. Belafonte was also a lifelong activist who participated in and helped organize protest marches and benefit concerts. He was also a close friend and supporter of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and helped organize the historic 1963 march on Washington. Among his other accolades, Belafonte was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He is survived by his wife, children, stepchildren and grandchildren. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And finally, a story about the most wholesome of pipe dreams. The titular Ben of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream has announced a new cannabis venture with products set to launch in Vermont cannabis stores sometime next month. Ben Cohen’s new nonprofit marijuana line is called Ben’s Best BLNZ. BLNZ spelled B-L-N-Z [laughter] or B3. That’s the other name for it. The Certified Organic Line of cannabis products will include pre-rolls, vapes and flower, all in service of a higher mission. According to B3’s website, 80% of the brand’s profits will go to grants for Black cannabis entrepreneurs, while the rest will be divided equally between the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and the Last Prisoner Project, which works to free people incarcerated for cannabis offenses across the U.S. As their mission statement says, despite using pot at the same rate, Black people are four times more likely to be arrested than white consumers. So for all you 420 friendly Vermonters out there, remember, when they go low, we get high. Something tells us supporting this cause will only make that pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food in your freezer taste even better than usual. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Love this for Ben. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Love it for Ben. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Uh. Wonder what Jerry is up to. I feel like maybe he feels a little left out. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Maybe they’re just taking some time apart. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads to bring you our investigative reporting about what Miley Cyrus may or may not have been up to lately. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad and for today’s temp check we are going to ask you to put on your conspiracy wigs for a hot sec. A mysterious LP that dropped the same day as Miley Cyrus’s post-divorce album, Endless Summer Vacation, has fans wondering if the pop star has pulled a reverse Hannah Montana. The album in question, Down With Me by an artist named Clara Pierce quietly appeared on music streaming platforms on March 10th and features 12 tracks with vocals distinctly similar to Miley Cyrus. Even weirder, all of the songs have been attributed to a sole songwriter named Willian Cordeiro. Just so you know, what we’re talking about, here is a bit of Clara Pierce’s song Hands of Time. [clip of Hands of Time by Clara Pierce plays] Okay. I hear the Miley, but I also I’m like, I don’t know. I might have doubts. Yesterday, after Rolling Stone published an article about the theory, the album was swiftly taken down from Spotify. And while fans have found several references to Miley’s work within the songs, some are also wondering if the music was potentially AI generated using Cyrus’s songs as a starting point. So far, there has been no word from Miley’s camp, which is, I think, kind of crazy. But I have to ask you, Josie, is Clara Pierce actually Miley’s Sasha Fierce or is this Balenciaga popegate all over again? And have we been duped by AI? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Now I’m 100% convinced it’s AI. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Me too right? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Even though I don’t want it to be AI. Yeah, I think it’s AI. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I hear the Miley. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I hear a little Miley.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s giving AI a little bit also what the fuck was that album art? I know you guys can’t see it. I know this is a podcast, but that was like and I don’t even know if that’s a real album art or just like something someone put on YouTube. It was so ugly. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It was really bad. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So cutesy in a way where I’m like, Miley Cyrus would be disgusted by that. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It was really bad. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Miley Cyrus is cool. She would not like that. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: She is cool. I do feel like this could have been a cool PR thing, but I don’t think that she would take it down if it were really her. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And something about the voice just sounds like something about the accent sounds like a little weird. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: A little off. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: So I’m like, this is AI.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m not even a Miley Cyrus connoisseur, I’d say. And I think it sounds a little off. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Me neither. It just feels a little off. And I am truly bummed that this is where we are. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Watch her release a statement being like that was me in my uh my most– 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I know. [laughing]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –[?] beautiful [?] [laughter] [banter] Me in my truest self. Okay. All love to you Miley. And just like that we have checked our temps. They’re a little lukewarm. We don’t like the AI but– 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: They’re robotic. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. [laugh] [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe leave a review. Figure out your dream pint rotation and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just conspiracy theories that have nothing to do with the fate of democracy like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

[spoken together] And reveal yourself. Clara. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We got to know we said our names. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: If that was your real one. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We got to know. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. It’s your turn. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Your computer serial number. That’s the name. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: You can tell us. We will not tell Miley or the cops. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: No, certainly not the cops. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I certainly won’t tell the cops. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But I mean, if Miley comes up to me and asks, like, I’m not going to say no. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. [music break]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.