Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican administration

The Black Panther Cover-Up

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

The Justice Department has ordered its career trial lawyers who have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights not to appear to provide testimony or give documents in the investigation of DOJ’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case. The Washington Times explains:

Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, ordered the lawyers’ silence in a letter to the attorney for J. Christian Adams, the lead attorney for the department in the New Black Panther case. The letter said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibited Mr. Adams’ cooperation in the commission probe.

How a personnel guideline can supersede the force of a subpoena issued by the commission remains a mystery. The report notes:

Todd Gaziano, a nonpartisan member of the Civil Rights Commission, challenged the Justice Department’s ruling, saying that the regulations cited do not apply and that the commission is “duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and other similar agencies.”

“Our job places a premium on our role as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies, and to that end, Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with our requests,” he said. … [Gaziano] said the Justice Department “had it exactly backwards” when it suggested that there could be negative consequences for those who comply with the commission’s subpoenas. He said a lawyer cannot refuse to comply with a subpoena he knows to be lawful.

A source tells me that Adams was “not quite” threatened with the loss of his job, but plainly he and his colleague, Christopher Coates, the voting rights section chief, are being strong-armed to disregard a lawful subpoena. This is abject lawlessness, the sort of executive imperiousness that, if practiced by a Republican administration, would bring howls of protest from Congress, the media, and liberal lawyers’ groups. The Obama Justice Department doesn’t want to respond to a subpoena because they have a personnel rule? Next thing you know they’ll be claiming executive privilege for a social secretary. Oh yes, that’s right …

Now as for the merits, the Justice Department spokesman continues to spew the administration line that the voter-intimidation case brought by DOJ’s career lawyers was not supported by the law and the facts. But of course the lawyers disagree, claiming that their best legal judgment was overridden by political appointees without justification. They have a story to tell, with documents, firsthand accounts of meetings and conversations and e-mails with the political appointees’ own remarks, which they say will substantiate their position. But the Justice Department won’t let any of that out, nor will it say what specifically about the case lacked factual or legal support.

It’s not clear where we go from here. The Justice Department lawyers may appear anyway, testing whether the Obama administration would go as far as to fire them for complying with a subpoena. A deal might be negotiated between DOJ (which is apparently concerned that something quite distasteful may emerge) and the commission to provide some portion of the requested information. Or Congress might wake up, fulfill its obligation to conduct some real oversight of the Obama administration (which once again is telling us that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to the White House), and actually hold a hearing on the matter.

The crew that excoriated the “politicization” of justice is now in a furious fight to cover their tracks and prevent career lawyers from blowing the whistle on Obama political appointees who reached down to pull the plug on a serious case of voter intimidation. The Obami need not be accountable or “transparent” to anyone, they would have us believe. We’ll see if that proves to be a winning position.

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Why So Mum?

Ben Smith reports:

Human Rights advocates have been deeply disappointed — more than many will say publicly — by elements of Obama’s first year, as the White House has appeared to make the cause secondary in relationships from Turkey to Sudan and has avoided casting even conflicts, like Afghanistan, in the human rights terms George W. Bush often used.

China was an early red flag for some, as Secretary Clinton said in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to “interfere” with other issues, a remark she subsequently walked back. But human rights groups have been watching President Obama’s visit to China closely for a sense of how, and whether, he’ll publicly broach the question.

He notes that Amnesty International was pleased by Obama’s comments on censorship and religious freedom in Shanghai but says that the group’s director of international advocacy does “want him to speak more forcefully during the press conference [with President Hu] itself and also set some benchmarks.”

This raises the question of why these groups are saying one thing in private and another (or nothing much at all) in public. Are they in the business of blocking and tackling for Obama because they think he’s a swell liberal, or are they in the business of advocacy for human rights and democracy? Well, more the former, it seems. Given the administration’s rather putrid record on human rights over the past 10 months, one would expect these groups to be apoplectic, as certainly they would be if a Republican administration had shunned the Dalai Lama and downgraded human rights at every turn.

Maybe, like so many others, human-rights groups will begin to evaluate Obama both on what he does and what he says. And in that regard, they should have plenty to complain about.

Ben Smith reports:

Human Rights advocates have been deeply disappointed — more than many will say publicly — by elements of Obama’s first year, as the White House has appeared to make the cause secondary in relationships from Turkey to Sudan and has avoided casting even conflicts, like Afghanistan, in the human rights terms George W. Bush often used.

China was an early red flag for some, as Secretary Clinton said in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to “interfere” with other issues, a remark she subsequently walked back. But human rights groups have been watching President Obama’s visit to China closely for a sense of how, and whether, he’ll publicly broach the question.

He notes that Amnesty International was pleased by Obama’s comments on censorship and religious freedom in Shanghai but says that the group’s director of international advocacy does “want him to speak more forcefully during the press conference [with President Hu] itself and also set some benchmarks.”

This raises the question of why these groups are saying one thing in private and another (or nothing much at all) in public. Are they in the business of blocking and tackling for Obama because they think he’s a swell liberal, or are they in the business of advocacy for human rights and democracy? Well, more the former, it seems. Given the administration’s rather putrid record on human rights over the past 10 months, one would expect these groups to be apoplectic, as certainly they would be if a Republican administration had shunned the Dalai Lama and downgraded human rights at every turn.

Maybe, like so many others, human-rights groups will begin to evaluate Obama both on what he does and what he says. And in that regard, they should have plenty to complain about.

Read Less