In the flap over the New Black Panther Party case, the Justice Department appears to be making up rules as it goes along. Back on December 18, 2009, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a letter from its general counsel David Blackwood to the Justice Department’s Joseph H. Hunt, wrote to explain why the commission had resorted to sending subpoenas to obtain information on the controversial dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and to try to dislodge the reason for the Justice Department’s apparent refusal to cooperate with the commission. He wrote:
To allay your concerns, the Commission requested a meeting where we would negotiate revisions to our discovery plan so as to eliminate or minimize the likelihood the Commission’s work would interfere with OPR’s pending investigation. Your refusal to schedule a meeting even to discuss the Commission’s pending discovery requests and depositions suggests that DOJ is not interested in working to develop a path that will allow each agency to fulfill its statutory obligation. As you are aware, the Commission first began requesting related information from the Department on June 16, 2009, six months ago. After six months passed without a substantive response from DOJ, the Commission felt it necessary to issue subpoenas.
Hunt wrote back on December 23, denying that the department was refusing to cooperate and asserting that it wasn’t unwilling to meet with the commission. Hunt seemed to suggest that the department wanted the chance to “set forth its position in writing,” but alas, it never consented to a meeting and still has not presented a viable legal theory for refusing to cooperate. In its blizzard of excuses in its discovery response, Eric Holder’s Justice Department asserts the attorney-client privilege. But a 1982 opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel specifically found that “the interests implicated by the attorney-client privilege generally are subsumed under a claim of executive privilege … and the considerations of separation of powers and effective performance of constitutional duties determine the validity of the claim of privilege.” A 1986 opinion similarly makes clear that the attorney-client privilege “is not usually considered to constitute a separate basis [from executive privilege] for resisting congressional demands for information.” In short, there really isn’t an attorney-client privilege, just executive privilege, but the Obami seem unwilling to use that politically charged defense. Read More