Commentary Magazine


Topic: Office of Public Affairs

Justice Department Sued Over Black Panther Documents

The Justice Department has been stonewalling individual members of Congress and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their efforts to get to the bottom of the Obama-Holder Justice Department’s decision to abandon a default judgment against the New Black Panther Party and multiple individual defendants in a case of blatant voter intimidation. Now the conservative legal watchdog Judicial Watch is going to court to pry the documents loose:

Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on May 29, 2009. The Justice Department acknowledged receiving the request on June 18, 2009, but then referred the request to the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and the Civil Rights Division. On January 15, 2010, the OIP notified Judicial Watch that it would be responding to the request on behalf of the Offices of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, Public Affairs, Legislative Affairs, Legal Policy, and Intergovernmental and Public Liaison.

On January 15, the OIP also indicated that the Office of the Associate Attorney General found 135 pages of records responsive to Judicial Watch’s request, but that all records would be withheld in full. On January 26, the OIP advised Judicial Watch that the Office of Public Affairs and Office of Legal Policy completed their searches and found no responsive documents. On February 10, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division indicated that after an extensive search it had located “numerous responsive records” but determined that “access to the majority of the records” should be denied. On March 26, the OIP indicated that the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison completed searches and found no documents.

It’s about time the courts rule on the panoply of made-up defenses and fake privileges that Holder has cooked up to avoid turning over these documents. Let the courts decide if the Obama administration can have it both ways — declining to invoke executive privilege but relying on the privilege under other names (“deliberative privilege”).

A knowledgeable lawyer e-mails me: “Notice DOJ revealed nothing about the number of panther documents in the AG and deputy AG office. Even for  the associate attorney general they revealed there were 135 but they weren’t going to turn them over. Failing to even name a number is extremely suspicious because those units can be searched quicker and easier for compliant documents. It leads one to conclude any number would be an embarrassment, and a high number would be a catastrophe. So, don’t reveal a number. Typical of this non-transparent operation.”

And now we’re going to see the administration’s true colors played out in open court. As a Judicial Watch spokesman said: “If there is nothing to hide, then Eric Holder should release this information as the law requires. And this is just one more example of how Obama’s promises of transparency are a big lie.”

But the Obama team may have a different problem: if either or both houses of Congress flip to Republican control, new chairmen will populate key committees and subpoenas will begin to fly. Congress is in an even better position to get access to the documents, as attorney-client privilege doesn’t work against a co-equal branch of government. In sum, Holder is running out of room to hide, finally.

The Justice Department has been stonewalling individual members of Congress and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their efforts to get to the bottom of the Obama-Holder Justice Department’s decision to abandon a default judgment against the New Black Panther Party and multiple individual defendants in a case of blatant voter intimidation. Now the conservative legal watchdog Judicial Watch is going to court to pry the documents loose:

Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on May 29, 2009. The Justice Department acknowledged receiving the request on June 18, 2009, but then referred the request to the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and the Civil Rights Division. On January 15, 2010, the OIP notified Judicial Watch that it would be responding to the request on behalf of the Offices of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, Public Affairs, Legislative Affairs, Legal Policy, and Intergovernmental and Public Liaison.

On January 15, the OIP also indicated that the Office of the Associate Attorney General found 135 pages of records responsive to Judicial Watch’s request, but that all records would be withheld in full. On January 26, the OIP advised Judicial Watch that the Office of Public Affairs and Office of Legal Policy completed their searches and found no responsive documents. On February 10, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division indicated that after an extensive search it had located “numerous responsive records” but determined that “access to the majority of the records” should be denied. On March 26, the OIP indicated that the Office of Legislative Affairs and the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison completed searches and found no documents.

It’s about time the courts rule on the panoply of made-up defenses and fake privileges that Holder has cooked up to avoid turning over these documents. Let the courts decide if the Obama administration can have it both ways — declining to invoke executive privilege but relying on the privilege under other names (“deliberative privilege”).

A knowledgeable lawyer e-mails me: “Notice DOJ revealed nothing about the number of panther documents in the AG and deputy AG office. Even for  the associate attorney general they revealed there were 135 but they weren’t going to turn them over. Failing to even name a number is extremely suspicious because those units can be searched quicker and easier for compliant documents. It leads one to conclude any number would be an embarrassment, and a high number would be a catastrophe. So, don’t reveal a number. Typical of this non-transparent operation.”

And now we’re going to see the administration’s true colors played out in open court. As a Judicial Watch spokesman said: “If there is nothing to hide, then Eric Holder should release this information as the law requires. And this is just one more example of how Obama’s promises of transparency are a big lie.”

But the Obama team may have a different problem: if either or both houses of Congress flip to Republican control, new chairmen will populate key committees and subpoenas will begin to fly. Congress is in an even better position to get access to the documents, as attorney-client privilege doesn’t work against a co-equal branch of government. In sum, Holder is running out of room to hide, finally.

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