Commentary Magazine


Topic: acting assistant attorney general

What Did Eric Holder Know and When Did He Know It?

From the beginning of the New Black Panther Party scandal, the Obama Justice Department insisted that the decision to dismiss a case of egregious voter intimidation was made by career attorneys. Now we are learning that there was significant involvement by political appointees, including the attorney general himself. In a prepared testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which opened its hearing today, Rep. Frank Wolf explained:

“According to the Appellate Division memos first disclosed in the Times article, Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn said that ‘the appropriate action was to pursue the default judgment’ and that Justice had made a ‘reasonable argument in favor of default relief against all defendants.’

Flynn’s opinion was shared by a second Appellate Division official, Marie K. McElderry, who stated, ‘The government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters or persons urging or aiding persons to vote or attempt to vote.’

Given these troubling disclosures, I have repeatedly called on the attorney general to re-file this civil suit and allow a ruling from the judge based on the merits of the case, not political expediency.  The career trial team should be allowed to bring the case again – per the guidance I obtained from the Congressional Research Service’s American Law Division in its July 30 memo – to allow our nation’s justice system to work as it was intended: impartially and without bias.

Sources within the department stated that Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, a political appointee, in conjunction with the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, Ms. Loretta King, and her deputy, Mr. Steve Rosenbaum, overruled the career attorneys in the Voting Rights section.  Earlier this week, the department finally acknowledged that the Attorney General was made aware – on multiple occasions – of the steps being taken to dismiss this case.”

Wolf may be referring to the Justice Department’s supplemental response to an interrogation from the Commission, a copy of which I have received. The Department confirms, “The Attorney General was generally made aware by the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Associate’s staff that the Civil Rights Division was considering the appropriate actions to take in the New Black Panther Party litigation case.” The response states that Holder was “likely provided a brief update” but “did not make the decisions regarding any aspect” of the case. Did he weigh in? Did he advocate a position? Did his underlings? We don’t know.

But one thing is certain: if the case was significant enough to brief the attorney general on, you can bet that the decisions were approved if not instigated by political appointees. The veil is beginning to be lifted. Now it is time to put Holder and Perrelli under oath and find out what they knew and when they knew it. And then we can determine whether the Justice Department has been covering up the politicization of the enforcement of civil rights.

From the beginning of the New Black Panther Party scandal, the Obama Justice Department insisted that the decision to dismiss a case of egregious voter intimidation was made by career attorneys. Now we are learning that there was significant involvement by political appointees, including the attorney general himself. In a prepared testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which opened its hearing today, Rep. Frank Wolf explained:

“According to the Appellate Division memos first disclosed in the Times article, Appellate Chief Diana K. Flynn said that ‘the appropriate action was to pursue the default judgment’ and that Justice had made a ‘reasonable argument in favor of default relief against all defendants.’

Flynn’s opinion was shared by a second Appellate Division official, Marie K. McElderry, who stated, ‘The government’s predominant interest is preventing intimidation, threats and coercion against voters or persons urging or aiding persons to vote or attempt to vote.’

Given these troubling disclosures, I have repeatedly called on the attorney general to re-file this civil suit and allow a ruling from the judge based on the merits of the case, not political expediency.  The career trial team should be allowed to bring the case again – per the guidance I obtained from the Congressional Research Service’s American Law Division in its July 30 memo – to allow our nation’s justice system to work as it was intended: impartially and without bias.

Sources within the department stated that Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, a political appointee, in conjunction with the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, Ms. Loretta King, and her deputy, Mr. Steve Rosenbaum, overruled the career attorneys in the Voting Rights section.  Earlier this week, the department finally acknowledged that the Attorney General was made aware – on multiple occasions – of the steps being taken to dismiss this case.”

Wolf may be referring to the Justice Department’s supplemental response to an interrogation from the Commission, a copy of which I have received. The Department confirms, “The Attorney General was generally made aware by the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Associate’s staff that the Civil Rights Division was considering the appropriate actions to take in the New Black Panther Party litigation case.” The response states that Holder was “likely provided a brief update” but “did not make the decisions regarding any aspect” of the case. Did he weigh in? Did he advocate a position? Did his underlings? We don’t know.

But one thing is certain: if the case was significant enough to brief the attorney general on, you can bet that the decisions were approved if not instigated by political appointees. The veil is beginning to be lifted. Now it is time to put Holder and Perrelli under oath and find out what they knew and when they knew it. And then we can determine whether the Justice Department has been covering up the politicization of the enforcement of civil rights.

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Re: New Black Panther Party Case

Based on what I have learned so far, the Justice Department seems to be responding in less than candid fashion to the discovery of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. A knowledgeable source who has reviewed the responses tells me:

There are statements in the response that reveal the Department isn’t replying in good faith and isn’t trying very hard to get to the bottom of the case. For example, the Commission asked for information about communications from a Philadelphia lawyer who said he represented one of the black panthers, even though he never filed a pleading. The Department says they can’t find any evidence of such communications. They might start by looking at the publicly filed pleadings in the case because an affidavit was filed in the case discussing communications with the attorney in some detail.

Then there is the lack of information about those individuals in outside liberal civil rights groups who are believed to have communicated with Obama officials about the case’s dismissal. Despite the Justice Department’s reticence to reveal any information, I am told that the communications from Kristen Clarke of the NAACP about the case are widely known in the division. My source tells me that Loretta King, former acting assistant attorney general of civil rights, spoke with Clarke “inside DOJ headquarters at the Robert F. Kennedy building on numerous occasions.” Former Justice Department lawyer Hans von Spakovsky similarly reports:

One former Voting Section career lawyer who had left the Justice Department to go to work for the NAACP, Kristen Clarke, admitted to the Washington Times that she talked to the new political leadership after Obama was inaugurated, berating them for not dismissing the [New Black Panther Party] case. Sources at Justice tell me Clarke made an identical pitch to her former colleagues in the Voting Section once Obama and Eric Holder came to power.

The entreaties proved productive. According to the Washington Times, Loretta King, whom Obama named the acting assistant attorney general of the [Civil Rights Division], ordered [Chief of the Civil Rights division Chris] Coates to dismiss the case against three of the defendants despite their default. King apparently received approval from Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli to do so. Who else Perrelli spoke with in the Justice Department and the White House is the subject of continued stonewalling in response to the subpoenas served on Justice by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Read More

Based on what I have learned so far, the Justice Department seems to be responding in less than candid fashion to the discovery of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. A knowledgeable source who has reviewed the responses tells me:

There are statements in the response that reveal the Department isn’t replying in good faith and isn’t trying very hard to get to the bottom of the case. For example, the Commission asked for information about communications from a Philadelphia lawyer who said he represented one of the black panthers, even though he never filed a pleading. The Department says they can’t find any evidence of such communications. They might start by looking at the publicly filed pleadings in the case because an affidavit was filed in the case discussing communications with the attorney in some detail.

Then there is the lack of information about those individuals in outside liberal civil rights groups who are believed to have communicated with Obama officials about the case’s dismissal. Despite the Justice Department’s reticence to reveal any information, I am told that the communications from Kristen Clarke of the NAACP about the case are widely known in the division. My source tells me that Loretta King, former acting assistant attorney general of civil rights, spoke with Clarke “inside DOJ headquarters at the Robert F. Kennedy building on numerous occasions.” Former Justice Department lawyer Hans von Spakovsky similarly reports:

One former Voting Section career lawyer who had left the Justice Department to go to work for the NAACP, Kristen Clarke, admitted to the Washington Times that she talked to the new political leadership after Obama was inaugurated, berating them for not dismissing the [New Black Panther Party] case. Sources at Justice tell me Clarke made an identical pitch to her former colleagues in the Voting Section once Obama and Eric Holder came to power.

The entreaties proved productive. According to the Washington Times, Loretta King, whom Obama named the acting assistant attorney general of the [Civil Rights Division], ordered [Chief of the Civil Rights division Chris] Coates to dismiss the case against three of the defendants despite their default. King apparently received approval from Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli to do so. Who else Perrelli spoke with in the Justice Department and the White House is the subject of continued stonewalling in response to the subpoenas served on Justice by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Coates was the head of the department’s New Black Panther Party trial team and has been subpoenaed by the commission. Von Spakovsky also details how Obama officials made life miserable for Coates in recent months, resulting in his recent transfer to South Carolina.

As to the substance of the department’s responses, my source points out that although the Justice Department touts that it sought relief against one defendant, “the injunction was limited to only the city limits, and only to actual weapon possession, over the objections of the career attorneys.” One of those career attorneys who objected was, of course, Coates.

It is noteworthy that even on small matters, the Justice Department’s response comes up short. As is standard practice, the Civil Rights Commission requested a “privilege log” — that is, a detailed explanation of which documents were being withheld because of a claim of privilege, with some basic descriptive material that can then be the basis, if necessary, for review by a judge. However, as far as I can tell, even that log was not provided by the Justice Department. Perhaps even that would have given away too much.

The lengths to which the Justice Department has gone to avoid giving away information that is apparently widely known and available is remarkable. As my source noted, “Reasonable people may start to conclude what is being concealed is worth these lawless risks.”

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