Shortly after the 2020 election, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, sent an email to an aide to a prominent House conservative saying she would have nothing to do with his group until his members go “out in the streets,” a congressional source familiar with the exchange told NBC News.
Thomas told an aide to incoming Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., that she was more aligned with the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose leaders just two months later would lead the fight in Congress to overturn the results of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
The RSC was long representative of the most conservative House members, but in the past several years, it has been replaced by the tea party-driven Freedom Caucus.
Thomas wrote to the aide that Freedom Caucus members were tougher than RSC members, were in the fight and had then-President Donald Trump’s back, according to the source familiar with the email contents. Until she saw RSC members “out in the streets” and in the fight, she said, she would not help the RSC, the largest caucus of conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Her November 2020 email came in response to a request from the RSC to offer policy recommendations as Banks was set to take the helm of the group in early 2021. But when Thomas portrayed the RSC as soft in its support for Trump and told its members to take to the streets, the aide thanked her for her suggestions and moved on.
Banks declined to comment for this article. Thomas did not respond to a request for comment.
NBC News has not independently reviewed the email exchange, but sources said it made no specific references to GOP efforts to overturn the election or block the certification of the Electoral College ballots in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jan. 6 committee members are now debating whether to invite Thomas to speak to the panel or to issue a subpoena for her records, according to reporting by CBS News. But until now, the committee has been reluctant to go down the path of investigating the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice.
“We have a list of people that we’re looking at who helped finance or organize” the Jan. 6 rally, one committee member told NBC News. “My understanding is on the broader list, she is there. But we have not made a determination whether or not that information makes her a target of the committee.”
The email exchange suggests Thomas was pressuring Republicans in Congress to get more aggressive in fighting for Trump at a key moment when the lame-duck president and his inner circle were devising a strategy to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep him in power.
On Thursday, The Washington Post and CBS News reported that Thomas had repeatedly pressed Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to aggressively pursue an effort to overturn the presidential election. The pair exchanged nearly 30 text messages.
In one text to Meadows on Nov. 10, three days after networks had projected that Biden was the winner, Thomas railed at congressional Republicans, saying she wished more of them were lining up behind Trump and “out in street rallies” with his grassroots supporters who were furious about the election, the two news outlets reported.
“House and Senate guys are pathetic too… only 4 GOP House members seen out in street rallies with grassroots… Gohmert, Jordan, Gosar, and Roy,” Thomas texted Meadows, apparently referencing a quartet of Freedom Caucus members: Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; and Chip Roy, R-Texas.
The Post and CBS also reported on a Nov. 14 text showing that Thomas sent to Meadows material from Connie Hair, Gohmert’s chief of staff. The text message seemed to reference Hair’s belief that “the most important thing you can realize right now is that there are no rules in war.”
“This war is psychological. PSYOP,” Thomas texted.
Just days later, Gohmert appeared at a “Million MAGA March” near the White House and told Trump supporters, “This was a cheated election, and we can’t let it stand.” He talked about “revolution.”
It’s unclear how many other GOP congressional offices Thomas was emailing, texting or calling during the period between Election Day and Jan. 6.
Thomas said she attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. And her involvement in pressuring and advising leaders in both the executive branch and legislative branch on efforts to overturn the presidential election are raising significant ethical questions about whether her political activism has created a conflict of interest for her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas, who may have to decide additional cases relating to the special House investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.
In January, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument that executive privilege prevented the Jan. 6 panel from accessing a trove of records from the Trump White House. Thomas was the only justice who indicated the court should grant Trump’s motion to block the National Archives from handing over the material.
“Justice Thomas was the sole member of the Supreme Court who would have allowed records from Trump, Meadows, et al to be withheld from House Jan 6 Committee,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted Friday. “He did not explain his reasoning. We need answers.”
“At the bare minimum, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case related to the January 6th investigation,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, “and should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election.”
In a recent interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Ginni Thomas said she and her husband “share many of the same ideals, principles, and aspirations for America” but 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,” she said.
Just hours after the Jan. 6 attack, Banks, who is in his second and final year as RSC chairman, objected to the certification of Electoral College votes from both Arizona and Pennsylvania, arguing that some governors and local officials changed the rules of the election due to the pandemic. He has said Biden is the president and has not echoed Trump in talking about unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud in the election.
Still, Banks found himself in the headlines last year after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blocked both Banks and Jordan from serving on the Jan. 6 committee. The speaker rejected Banks over a statement he made that the special panel should be used to probe violent riots that occurred across the country in 2020.
Republicans boycotted the Jan. 6 committee, prompting Pelosi to appoint two GOP critics of Trump: Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
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Virgin Atlantic ceases Hong Kong operations, cites Russian airspace closure
Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.
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British airline Virgin Atlantic announced Wednesday it was permanently ceasing operations in Hong Kong due to issues related to the closure of Russian airspace.
The decision marks the end of the carrier’s London Heathrow to Hong Kong flight route and the closure of its Hong Kong office. It also ends the airline’s 30-year presence in the Asian financial hub.
Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that the closure of Russian airspace following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in late February was one of several “complexities” contributing to the decision.
It said that on the basis of the airspace remaining closed, Heathrow to London flight times would be around one hour longer than in 2019, while Hong Kong to Heathrow flights would be 1 hour 50 minutes longer.
It added that the 2019 termination of Virgin Australia’s Hong Kong to Melbourne and Hong Kong to Sydney services had already reduced the airline’s presence in the city-state.
“After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city,” a spokesperson for the airline said.
“Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned, which have already been paused since December 2021,” it added.
Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.
The airline was previously due to resume Hong Kong services from March 2023. However, with Wednesday’s announcement, it said it would be able to increase services in other key markets from next summer.
Around 46 Virgin Atlantic jobs, including those of office staff and cabin crew, are set to be impacted by the decision, according to Bloomberg.
The airline said it would offer refunds or vouchers for alternate Virgin Atlantic services to the “limited number” of customers due to travel from March next year.
Virgin’s exit from Hong Kong is the first by a major airline since American Airlines left the city in late 2021.
German minister criticizes U.S. over ‘astronomical’ natural gas prices
A photo of a natural gas flare burning near an oil pump jack at the New Harmony Oil Field in the U.S. on June 19, 2022.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Germany’s economy minister accused the U.S. and other “friendly” gas supplier states of astronomical prices for their supplies, suggesting they were profiting from the fallout of the war in Ukraine.
“Some countries, including friendly ones, sometimes achieve astronomical prices [for their gas]. Of course, that brings with it problems that we have to talk about,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told regional German paper NOZ in an interview published Wednesday which was translated by NBC News. He called for more solidarity from the U.S. when it comes to assisting its energy-pressed allies in Europe.
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“The United States contacted us when oil prices shot up, and the national oil reserves in Europe were tapped as a result. I think such solidarity would also be good for curbing gas prices,” he said.
CNBC contacted the White House for a response to the comments and is awaiting a reply.
Habeck, the co-leader of Germany’s Green Party, which is a part of Berlin’s coalition government led by center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said the EU should also do more to address the region’s gas crisis, with countries scrambling for alternative supplies which has pressured prices even more, that was brought about by the war in Ukraine and deteriorating relations with Russia.
Moscow’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom has cut supplies to the bloc drastically over the last few months, largely due to international sanctions and a desire to punish Europe — the EU used to import around 45% of its gas supplies from Russia but is seeking to halt all imports — for supporting Kyiv.
Habeck said the EU “should pool its market power and orchestrate smart and synchronized purchasing behavior by the EU states so that individual EU countries do not outbid each other and drive up world market prices.”
European market power is “enormous,” it just has to be used, he noted, according to the German news outlet.
Europe is facing a hard winter with gas shortages predicted across the region. Countries like Germany have been largely dependent on Russian gas supplies for decades with massive energy infrastructure, such as the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, designed to bring gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
While the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline was never even launched, with Germany refusing to certify the pipeline following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Nord Stream 1 has become a pawn in souring relations between Moscow and Brussels.
Over the summer, gas supplies via the pipeline stopped and started seemingly at Moscow’s whim, although it invariably cited the need for maintenance and sanctions as a reason for halting supplies. But then supplies came to a halt in September.
More recently, Russia and Europe’s energy ties have literally been damaged with the Nord Stream pipelines suffering leaks last month in suspicious circumstances.
Russia denied it had sabotaged the pipelines, with reported underwater explosions damaging the pipes in several places, sending natural gas spewing from the Baltic Sea. The damage prompted an international outcry with the EU vowing a “robust” response to attacks on its energy infrastructure.
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