Senate Judiciary authorizes subpoenas of Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo in Supreme Court ethics probe

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Harlan Crow, chairman and chief executive officer of Crow Holdings LLC, sits for a photograph at the Old Parkland estate offices in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015.

Chris Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to approve subpoenas for conservative activist Leonard Leo and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow in its Supreme Court ethics probe.

The subpoenas were approved by 11 Democratic senators; no other senators voted. Republican members walked out of the committee room during the vote once it was clear that Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wouldn’t allow votes on any GOP amendments.

Ahead of the meeting, Durbin told reporters that Republicans had filed 177 amendments, which would have taken hours to go through.

“It will be a s—show,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee’s top Republican, told NBC News on Wednesday. “If they bring it up, we got tons of amendments.”

Durbin said that the GOP’s effort was intended to elongate the meeting and put Democrats in a tough spot on controversial votes.

Before the vote on the subpoenas, the meeting devolved into partisan bickering after Democrats tried to block Republicans from debating a nominee the panel was considering.

The meeting became tense after Durbin refused to let Republicans speak about a judicial nominee under consideration, saying that GOP members already had two opportunities to speak about the individual.

“Congratulations on destroying the United States Senate Judiciary Committee,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said to Durbin after Republicans then refused to vote on the subpoenas.

In this Nov. 16, 2016, photo, Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo speaks to media at Trump Tower, in New York.

Carolyn Kaster | AP

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., warned that Durbin’s refusal to let senators speak about nominees would result in consequences.

Meanwhile, Durbin defended the proposed subpoenas to conservative activists Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo as part of the panel’s ongoing probe into Supreme Court ethics.

“I’m only seeking subpoenas for two people who have refused to comply with this committee’s oversight request for months,” he said at the meeting.

ProPublica reported in April that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted trips funded by Crow, a billionaire donor. In June, the outlet reported that Justice Samuel Alito took an undisclosed fishing trip to Alaska in 2008 with GOP donor Robin Arkley II that was coordinated by Leo.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court adopted what it described as a new code of conduct following allegations of ethical lapses. Its effect is likely to be limited because the justices would enforce it themselves.