Commentary Magazine


Topic: Thomas Perez

Watching DOJ

Judicial Watch continues to document the New Black Panther Party scandal, which was first reported by conservative media and now has attracted mainstream coverage. (But not the Gray Lady, which may have a tough time explaining to her readers next year why House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith is issuing all those subpoenas. Imagine tuning into Mad Men for the first time after a couple of seasons; you see the dilemma — at some point, there’s no use trying to catch up.)

In the latest batch of disclosures, Judicial Watch tells us:

[I]t has obtained documents from the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) that provide new evidence that top political appointees at the DOJ were intimately involved in the decision to dismiss the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP). These new documents, which include internal DOJ email correspondence, directly contradict sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political leadership was involved in the decision. The new documents were obtained last week by Judicial Watch pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No.10-851)).

You mean Perez gave false testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights? Oh yes: Read More

Judicial Watch continues to document the New Black Panther Party scandal, which was first reported by conservative media and now has attracted mainstream coverage. (But not the Gray Lady, which may have a tough time explaining to her readers next year why House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith is issuing all those subpoenas. Imagine tuning into Mad Men for the first time after a couple of seasons; you see the dilemma — at some point, there’s no use trying to catch up.)

In the latest batch of disclosures, Judicial Watch tells us:

[I]t has obtained documents from the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) that provide new evidence that top political appointees at the DOJ were intimately involved in the decision to dismiss the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP). These new documents, which include internal DOJ email correspondence, directly contradict sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political leadership was involved in the decision. The new documents were obtained last week by Judicial Watch pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No.10-851)).

You mean Perez gave false testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights? Oh yes:

The new documents include a series of emails between two political appointees: former Democratic election lawyer and current Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli. Both DOJ officials were involved in detailed discussions regarding the NBPP decision. …

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political appointees were involved in the NBPP decision. Perez suggested that the dispute was merely “a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”

In fact, political appointee Sam Hirsch sent an April 30, 2009, email to Steven Rosenbaum (then-Acting Assistant Deputy Attorney General in the Civil Rights) thanking Rosenbaum for “doing everything you’re doing to make sure that this case is properly resolved.” The next day, the DOJ began to reverse course on its NBPP voter intimidation lawsuit.

We’re going to see where the e-mail trail leads. There will be several storylines. First, how far will the scandal go? The administration may try to “amputate” at the assistant attorney general level (Perez), but evidence already revealed suggests that the associate attorney general level (the #3 position) can’t escape. But of course, the key question will be whether Eric Holder himself will be shoved off the stage. (We are going to get that frank discussion on race he’s been pining for regardless.)

Second, we’ll see how much interference Democrats are willing to run for the White House. The administration’s toady commissioner Michael Yaki tried his best to derail the commission’s investigation but wound up only embarrassing himself as the evidence gushed forth. Will House Democrats be in the mood to follow that path — or is this a fine opportunity to display their “independence” from the White House?

And finally, we’ll find out how much the administration has learned and how beholden it is to liberal activists. The Obama team has two options: (1) admit fault, repudiate a race-specific view of civil rights enforcement (e.g., only whites can be defendants), come clean, and let heads roll; or (2) fight tooth and nail, keep stonewalling, and reassure the NAACP and other liberal civil rights groups that they will stick with the left-leaning party line (i.e., civil rights laws are there to protect only “traditional” victims).

This issue is not remotely the biggest headache the administration will have to face in the next two years, but it sure will be revealing. And quite entertaining, I suspect.

Read Less

Washington Post Confirms More Than a Year of Conservative Reporting

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure – and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

Yes, that’s right. On Saturday’s front page, in a well-documented piece, the Washington Post did a very credible job in reporting the details of the New Black Party Panther case and, in large part, vindicating the witnesses and conservative outlets which have reported that: 1) the administration concealed that political appointees influenced the decision to dismiss a blatant case of voter intimidation; 2) the Obama administration does not believe in equal enforcement of civil rights laws; and 3) this single incident is indicative of a much larger problem than one case of voter intimidation.

As to the administration’s mindset:

Civil rights officials from the Bush administration have said that enforcement should be race-neutral. But some officials from the Obama administration, which took office vowing to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement, thought the agency should focus primarily on cases filed on behalf of minorities.

“The Voting Rights Act was passed because people like Bull Connor were hitting people like John Lewis, not the other way around,” said one Justice Department official not authorized to speak publicly, referring to the white Alabama police commissioner who cracked down on civil rights protesters such as Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia.

Translation: J. Christian Adams and Chris Coates, two former trial attorneys, testified truthfully under oath on this point; civil rights chief Thomas Perez did not.

Likewise, Adams and Coates are vindicated in their version of a case filed against an African American official:

Three Justice Department lawyers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their supervisors, described the same tensions, among career lawyers as well as political appointees. Employees who worked on the [Ike]Brown case were harassed by colleagues, they said, and some department lawyers anonymously went on legal blogs “absolutely tearing apart anybody who was involved in that case,” said one lawyer.

“There are career people who feel strongly that it is not the voting section’s job to protect white voters,” the lawyer said. “The environment is that you better toe the line of traditional civil rights ideas or you better keep quiet about it, because you will not advance, you will not receive awards and you will be ostracized.”

Translation: Wow.

As for the involvement of higher-ups:

Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no.

“This is a case about career people disagreeing with career people,” said Perez, who was not in the department at the time. He also said that political appointees are regularly briefed on civil rights cases and, whenever there is a potentially controversial decision, “we obviously communicate that up the chain.”

Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division.

Translation: Perez did not exactly say the truth under oath.

What about orders not to enforce the law in a race-neutral fashion?

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities.

“Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.”

Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Translation: Perez and Fernandes will have to go.

The administration must be awfully panicky. Lots of DOJ  attorneys assisted in preparing false responses to discovery requests from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The administration repeatedly misrepresented the facts in public. The Justice Department tried to prevent percipient witnesses from testifying pursuant to subpoenas. Perez testified under oath untruthfully. The  Obama administration stonewalled both the commission and congressmen trying to uncover the facts which conservative outlets and now the Post have revealed. The DOJ tried to bully attorneys who were prepared to tell the truth. There is a term for that: obstruction of justice.

And what’s more, GOP committee chairmen with subpoena power will take over in January when the new Congress convenes. Expect hearings, some resignations, and maybe a prosecution or two. The “small potatoes” story the mainstream media pooh-poohed will be the first serious scandal of the last two years of Obama’s term. Do I hear that Eric Holder wants to spend “more time with his family”?

Two final notes. Conservatives who caught wind of this story being underway expressed concern that the Post reporters might end up pulling their punches, given this Post editorial from several weeks ago. That fear turned out to be unfounded. This is one instance in which the wall between the editorial and news sections held firm. (It often works the other way, of course. The Post’s opinion editors, for example, were on top of the Chas Freeman story, which its news reporters ignored.) And secondly, sources who spoke to the reporters tells me that the Post was under severe pressure from the DOJ not to run this sort of story. It seems as though the Post‘s reporters find the current crew at the DOJ quite “unprofessional”. One must give credit to those two reporters for withstanding the pressure – and see it as a sign that the administration’s bark isn’t scaring anyone these days.

Read Less

The Wrongdoing, the Cover-Up, and Executive Privilege

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

Like any administration snared in a Beltway scandal, the Obama team has two problems in the New Black Panther Party scandal: the wrongdoing and the cover-up.

The wrongdoing is not merely that the Obama administration dismissed a blatant case of voter intimidation. It is not merely that an NAACP attorney pressured the Obama team to dump the case. It is not merely that the Obama Justice Department explicitly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, which helps prevent voter fraud. It is that the Obama team believes that the civil rights laws run only one way and offer protection only to certain racial or ethnic groups. That’s not the law (or the Equal Protection Clause has no meaning), and it runs afoul of Americans’ basic sense of fairness. That is why the Obama administration denies that it holds such a view. They may be radicals, but they aren’t dumb.

The cover-up takes two forms. There are the false statements put out by the Justice Department and made under oath by the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, first, denying that political appointees were involved in the case and, second, disclaiming the existence of hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws. But there is also the Nixonian abuse of executive privilege to prevent scrutiny of the Justice Department. It is this latter issue that has gotten too little attention.

The administration has refused to produce witnesses and documents, employing a spurious claim of “deliberative process” privilege. Case law and Justice Department memoranda make clear that this is an offshoot of the executive privilege that is applicable only when invoked by the president (or, some would say, a Cabinet-level official). But Obama hasn’t done this. After all, “executive privilege” sounds bad. It reeks of “cover-up.” But without a formal invocation of the privilege, it is lawlessness, pure and simple, to withhold documents and witnesses in response to lawful subpoenas, FOIA requests, and a federal statute (which obligates the DOJ to cooperate with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights).

It was both inaccurate and nervy for the Justice Department’s spokesman to claim that Chris Coates’s testimony was short on facts. To begin with, Coates cited example after example to support the conclusion that the Obama team considers only racial, ethnic, and language minorities to be protected by civil rights laws. But more to the point, he was prevented from disclosing even more details because of the administration’s privilege claim. Again and again, Coates explained that he couldn’t answer questions out of respect for the DOJ’s position. Similarly, the log obtained by Judicial Watch lists dozens of e-mails and documents transmitted between political appointees and the voting section that would substantiate testimony by Coates. All that information remains hidden from view because the Justice Department is concealing it.

The mainstream media have just woken up to the extent and importance of the scandal, so perhaps they will get around to this aspect of the case. Yet I get the feeling that if it had been the Bush administration telling whistleblowers not to testify and withholding, absent any legal basis, key documents that could implicate high-ranking officials, the media would have already been all over this.

Read Less

Obama Justice Department Rocked

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.” Read More

The former head of the Justice Department’s New Black Panther trial team, Chris Coates, testified Friday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. See here and here and here (subscription required). Before Coates broke his silence, the commission’s critics, a minority of the commissioners, and the mainstream media insisted that the dismissal of a slam-dunk voter-intimidation case had no significance beyond the single incident on Election Day 2008. However, Coates’s account of the administration’s hostility to race-neutral enforcement of voting laws and refusal to enforce Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act (requiring that states clean up their voting rolls to prevent voter fraud) blew that assertion to smithereens.

I was in the hearing room on Friday. Nearly as riveting as Coates’s testimony was the frantic performance of the administration’s chief lackey, Commissioner Michael Yaki. He asked Coates about the civil rights division’s memo-writing procedures, Bush-era cases, and Coates’s friendship with a former department attorney but never asked any questions about the specific allegations that Obama appointees opposed equal enforcement of the voting laws. An audience member wisecracked, “When all else fails, blame George Bush.”

Try as Democrats might to ignore the blockbuster evidence, Coates’s testimony was a game changer. Granted, the testimony contained information already revealed in conservative outlets and by former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams. But Coates confirmed these facts and added a wealth of new details. An African American attorney and his mother (who also works for DOJ) were harassed for working on a voting case brought against an African American defendant. Obama’s deputy assistant general for civil rights, Julie Fernandez, repeatedly told attorneys not to enforce Section 8 or bring cases against minority defendants. Coates’s supervisor, who directly ordered the case’s dismissal, told him to stop asking applicants if they could enforce laws in a race-neutral fashion. Coates briefed civil rights chief Thomas Perez on the hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws — before Perez feigned ignorance of such sentiments in sworn testimony. In sum, Coates’s appearance was the scandal’s tipping point.

Conservative outlets have reported on the case for over a year; mainstream reporters have averted their eyes. After Coates’s performance, the Washington Post’s page-one story proclaimed that the case is “ratcheting up.” Politico had pooh-poohed the story; it now acknowledges that conservatives had it correct all along. (“Coates’ highly-charged testimony before the Civil Rights Commission echoed [conservatives’] allegations, as well as the testimony of J. Christian Adams.”) The testimony was so stunning that the New York Times might have to cover it.

Meanwhile, the DOJ’s spokesman bristled that Coates wasn’t “authorized” to testify and wasn’t an “appropriate” witness. In a transparent coordination with Yaki, DOJ’s spokesman blamed the Bush administration for politicizing the department. But it will be impossible to shrug off or smear Coates. As the Post conceded, Coates’s testimony will “carry greater weight because he worked decades ago as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has won awards from civil rights groups and lacks the partisan GOP resume of the department’s harshest opponents.”

Moreover, Coates testimony was all the more compelling because he was so circumspect, refusing to testify about internal discussions that the department considers privileged. (He readily agreed to provide more details if the DOJ waived its privilege claim.) He declined to draw inferences unsupported by his own observations. Asked whether Obama appointees’ directive not to enforce Section 8’s anti-fraud provisions was racially motivated, he answered with a litigator’s precision: it might have not been the intent, but the result was to allow bloated voting rolls in heavily minority districts that were Democratic strongholds.

No wonder the administration tried to muzzle Coates. Nevertheless, the department’s stonewalling has failed, and those parroting the administration’s line (“much ado about nothing”) look foolish. Inevitably, more Justice Department witnesses and documents will surface. (Judicial Watch has sued the DOJ, demanding documents evidencing the involvement of the department’s No. 3 man.)

Moreover, after November, Republicans almost certainly will assume chairmanships of key congressional committees. (Staff members from the offices of Reps. Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf, who have doggedly pursued the case, listened attentively in the front row on Friday.) A spokesman for Smith released this statement:

A founding principle of this nation is equality under the law. That means it is unacceptable for the Justice Department to determine whether to enforce a law based upon the race of a defendant or victim. And yet, according to testimony by the former chief voting rights attorney for the Department, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing. … The Judiciary Committee should immediately open an investigation into allegations of improper practices within the Civil Rights Division and Justice Department officials should be subpoenaed to testify before Congress. There is no excuse for racial discrimination anywhere, but within the halls of the U.S. Department of Justice, it is the height of hypocrisy.

If Obama appointees refuse to testify voluntarily, the new chairmen will issue subpoenas.

It will be interesting to hear Obama officials explain why they failed to investigate accusations of wrongdoing and instead insisted that voting-rights laws be enforced only on behalf of minorities. It will be must-see TV when Perez is grilled on his inaccurate testimony claiming ignorance of hostility to the colorblind enforcement of voting laws. Will attorneys be referred to their state bar for professional misconduct?

This has become another headache for the Obama administration, especially for Eric Holder. Maybe he will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republican chairmen grab their gavels.

Read Less

Obstruction of Justice

On August 6, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent Eric Holder a letter reiterating its request to allow Chris Coates, the former head of the New Black Panther Party trial team, to testify. Coates had, upon his relocation to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina, given a goodbye speech detailing the dangers of his colleagues’ aversion to colorblind enforcement of civil rights laws, which is the central focus of the commission’s work. The commission, in an effort to avoid any claim of “privilege,” offered to limit questioning to whether there is a “policy and/or culture within the Department of discriminatory enforcement of civil rights laws” and whether the administration is refusing to enforce the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires local and state governments to clean up the voting rolls to prevent fraud.

On August 11, civil rights department head Thomas Perez, who has been accused of giving misleading testimony to the commission and to Congress, sent a rather preposterous response. He assured the commission that there was no problem, no problem at all, because the Justice Department is committed “to the evenhanded application of the law.” And since Perez has told the commission so, there is no need to allow Coates to testify. (“In light of my clear articulation of our enforcement policy … we do not believe that a Civil Rights Division attorney who has been on detail to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina since mid-January 2010 is the appropriate witness to testify.”)

It’s jaw-dropping, really, even for this crew. Coates, who has detailed knowledge of the most explosive allegations, can’t be the right person to testify, because he was shuffled off to South Carolina after his maddening experience on the New Black Panther trial case and a fiery farewell address in which he accused the department of failing to enforce the law in an “evenhanded” manner. So he can’t possibly be the right person to testify.

As this report details, an acrimonious commission meeting took place on Friday in which a minority of the commissioners carried the department’s water and found no problem with the galling stonewall. But a majority of the commissioners found that the Obama administration had been obstructionist and passed a motion that restated the commission’s statutory authority and the attorney general’s refusal to cooperate with the commission’s investigation:

The Commission’s organic statute authorizes it to subpoena witnesses and the production of written material in aid of its mission, and it authorizes the Attorney General to enforce the Commission’s subpoenas in federal court if any person or entity refuses to comply. The Commission’s statute also requires that “All Federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties,” 42 U.S.C. § 1975b(e), but it is equally unclear whether the Commission has recourse to seek judicial enforcement of this command, absent representation from the Department of Justice. … In the NBPP investigation that is the subject of this report, the Department of Justice refused to comply with certain Commission requests for information concerning DOJ’s enforcement actions, and it instructed its employees not to comply with the Commission’s subpoenas for testimony.

The commission also adopted the following:

Congress should consider amendments to the Commission’s statute to address investigations in which the Attorney General and/or the Department of Justice have a conflict of interest in complying fully with the Commission’s requests for information.  Options to address a potential conflict of interest might include the following:

Enactment of a statutory procedure by which the Commission may request the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel with authority to represent it in federal court, which request the Attorney General must personally respond to in writing within a specified period of time.

Enactment of a statutory provision to clarify that the Commission may hire its own counsel and proceed independently in federal court if the Attorney General refuses to enforce a subpoena or other lawful request, especially those directed at the Department of Justice, its officers, or its employees.

A conscious decision not to alter the Commission’s statute or a statutory confirmation that the Attorney General and Department of Justice can act against the Commission’s interest without any particular explanation.

The last option would surely be popular with congressional Democrats.

But the real resolution of this will probably come only if Coates and others defy the department’s order to ignore the commission’s subpoenas (not likely if they want to continue working in this administration), or if control of the House and/or Senate flips to GOP control, and Coates, Perez, and others are ordered to appear and give congressional testimony under oath.

On August 6, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sent Eric Holder a letter reiterating its request to allow Chris Coates, the former head of the New Black Panther Party trial team, to testify. Coates had, upon his relocation to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina, given a goodbye speech detailing the dangers of his colleagues’ aversion to colorblind enforcement of civil rights laws, which is the central focus of the commission’s work. The commission, in an effort to avoid any claim of “privilege,” offered to limit questioning to whether there is a “policy and/or culture within the Department of discriminatory enforcement of civil rights laws” and whether the administration is refusing to enforce the portion of the Voting Rights Act that requires local and state governments to clean up the voting rolls to prevent fraud.

On August 11, civil rights department head Thomas Perez, who has been accused of giving misleading testimony to the commission and to Congress, sent a rather preposterous response. He assured the commission that there was no problem, no problem at all, because the Justice Department is committed “to the evenhanded application of the law.” And since Perez has told the commission so, there is no need to allow Coates to testify. (“In light of my clear articulation of our enforcement policy … we do not believe that a Civil Rights Division attorney who has been on detail to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina since mid-January 2010 is the appropriate witness to testify.”)

It’s jaw-dropping, really, even for this crew. Coates, who has detailed knowledge of the most explosive allegations, can’t be the right person to testify, because he was shuffled off to South Carolina after his maddening experience on the New Black Panther trial case and a fiery farewell address in which he accused the department of failing to enforce the law in an “evenhanded” manner. So he can’t possibly be the right person to testify.

As this report details, an acrimonious commission meeting took place on Friday in which a minority of the commissioners carried the department’s water and found no problem with the galling stonewall. But a majority of the commissioners found that the Obama administration had been obstructionist and passed a motion that restated the commission’s statutory authority and the attorney general’s refusal to cooperate with the commission’s investigation:

The Commission’s organic statute authorizes it to subpoena witnesses and the production of written material in aid of its mission, and it authorizes the Attorney General to enforce the Commission’s subpoenas in federal court if any person or entity refuses to comply. The Commission’s statute also requires that “All Federal agencies shall cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties,” 42 U.S.C. § 1975b(e), but it is equally unclear whether the Commission has recourse to seek judicial enforcement of this command, absent representation from the Department of Justice. … In the NBPP investigation that is the subject of this report, the Department of Justice refused to comply with certain Commission requests for information concerning DOJ’s enforcement actions, and it instructed its employees not to comply with the Commission’s subpoenas for testimony.

The commission also adopted the following:

Congress should consider amendments to the Commission’s statute to address investigations in which the Attorney General and/or the Department of Justice have a conflict of interest in complying fully with the Commission’s requests for information.  Options to address a potential conflict of interest might include the following:

Enactment of a statutory procedure by which the Commission may request the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel with authority to represent it in federal court, which request the Attorney General must personally respond to in writing within a specified period of time.

Enactment of a statutory provision to clarify that the Commission may hire its own counsel and proceed independently in federal court if the Attorney General refuses to enforce a subpoena or other lawful request, especially those directed at the Department of Justice, its officers, or its employees.

A conscious decision not to alter the Commission’s statute or a statutory confirmation that the Attorney General and Department of Justice can act against the Commission’s interest without any particular explanation.

The last option would surely be popular with congressional Democrats.

But the real resolution of this will probably come only if Coates and others defy the department’s order to ignore the commission’s subpoenas (not likely if they want to continue working in this administration), or if control of the House and/or Senate flips to GOP control, and Coates, Perez, and others are ordered to appear and give congressional testimony under oath.

Read Less

New Black Panthers — GOP Turns Up the Heat

Republicans on the Hill are turning their sights to the mushrooming New Black Panther Party scandal. Two of the latest developments signal the more aggressive stance from Republicans.

First, Rep. Lamar Smith (one of the few congressmen who has diligently hounded the administration for answers about the dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and for its position on enforcement of the civil rights laws) wrote to the president. As Ranking Chair on the House Judiciary Committee, he is asking for a special prosecutor to be appointed not only to investigate the dismissal of a single case but also to determine whether the Obama Justice Department is operating under a “no lawsuits against minorities” rule.

Then on Friday, in the Senate, the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee — all seven, including Lindsey Graham — sent a letter to Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. They list the relevant facts of the case, and they also make clear there is more at issue than a single case. The senators recap testimony that the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, may have provided untruthful testimony and that the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, Julie Fernandes, said that the Department wouldn’t pursue cases with minority defendants and white victims. They conclude that if the allegations are true, the Obama Justice Department is guilty of “politicization and possible corruption.” They demand a hearing. The kicker is subtle and in the final line: “Given the importance of this oversight matter, we believe that holding a hearing on this issue should take priority over other Committee business.”

Are the Republicans threatening to hold up confirmation hearings? Could filibusters be in the future? There is the Elena Kagan vote and also the hearing to fill the No. 2 slot in Justice. (The controversial James Cole awaits his confirmation hearing.) If the Obama administration wants to move forward on its issues and appointments, the Republicans seem to be implying that the stonewall act of Eric Holder, aided and abetted by the slothful Democratic chairmen, must end. Seems fair, right?

Maybe now the mainstream media will recognize that this story is hardly about a single case, as noxious as it was to forfeit a default judgment against blatant violators of the Voting Rights Act. Face the Nation is scheduled to take a look at the matter today. (I wonder if the guests have been warned not to bring up the network’s yearlong refusal to cover the story.) We will see whether the mainstream media perk up and admit there is, in fact, a scandal of significant proportions that needs to be fully investigated.

The Democrats may be more motivated now than they were a month or a year ago to look into the allegations for two reasons. First, if one or both of the houses flip to Republican control, Rep. Lamar Smith will be Chairman Smith, and Republicans will have subpoena power. Perhaps now is the time for the Obami and House Democrats to make amends with Smith, whose requests and inquiries have been repeatedly ignored. There is nothing quite like a new chairman with an axe to grind. Similarly in the Senate, wouldn’t it be better for the Democrats to have a hearing under the protective eye of Sen. Leahy? It’s a big risk to let things build and to hope that all the polls showing an impending landslide are wrong. They could be facing Chairman Kyl, you know.

Second, Congress is soon to recess. What if — like Rep. Brad Sherman — more Democrats are “ambushed” by constituents demanding answers about the case? (Note to Democratic friends: read up about the case; the voters don’t like it when you say you’ve never heard about something because the New York Times didn’t report on it.) Certainly, if confronted by irate voters, Democrats would prefer to say: “Yes, I’m concerned too about equal enforcement of civil rights laws. We sure are going to have a hearing on that. Now, let’s get back to the real issue in the campaign: George W. Bush.” Well, you get the idea.

Even if the media is in damage-control mode — playing dumb about the wider implications of the case — Republicans have no intention of going along with the charade. As a result, an unseemly scandal is about to get a whole lot more attention. Like it or not, the media may be obliged to follow the story — the whole story.

Republicans on the Hill are turning their sights to the mushrooming New Black Panther Party scandal. Two of the latest developments signal the more aggressive stance from Republicans.

First, Rep. Lamar Smith (one of the few congressmen who has diligently hounded the administration for answers about the dismissal of the voter-intimidation case and for its position on enforcement of the civil rights laws) wrote to the president. As Ranking Chair on the House Judiciary Committee, he is asking for a special prosecutor to be appointed not only to investigate the dismissal of a single case but also to determine whether the Obama Justice Department is operating under a “no lawsuits against minorities” rule.

Then on Friday, in the Senate, the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee — all seven, including Lindsey Graham — sent a letter to Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. They list the relevant facts of the case, and they also make clear there is more at issue than a single case. The senators recap testimony that the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez, may have provided untruthful testimony and that the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, Julie Fernandes, said that the Department wouldn’t pursue cases with minority defendants and white victims. They conclude that if the allegations are true, the Obama Justice Department is guilty of “politicization and possible corruption.” They demand a hearing. The kicker is subtle and in the final line: “Given the importance of this oversight matter, we believe that holding a hearing on this issue should take priority over other Committee business.”

Are the Republicans threatening to hold up confirmation hearings? Could filibusters be in the future? There is the Elena Kagan vote and also the hearing to fill the No. 2 slot in Justice. (The controversial James Cole awaits his confirmation hearing.) If the Obama administration wants to move forward on its issues and appointments, the Republicans seem to be implying that the stonewall act of Eric Holder, aided and abetted by the slothful Democratic chairmen, must end. Seems fair, right?

Maybe now the mainstream media will recognize that this story is hardly about a single case, as noxious as it was to forfeit a default judgment against blatant violators of the Voting Rights Act. Face the Nation is scheduled to take a look at the matter today. (I wonder if the guests have been warned not to bring up the network’s yearlong refusal to cover the story.) We will see whether the mainstream media perk up and admit there is, in fact, a scandal of significant proportions that needs to be fully investigated.

The Democrats may be more motivated now than they were a month or a year ago to look into the allegations for two reasons. First, if one or both of the houses flip to Republican control, Rep. Lamar Smith will be Chairman Smith, and Republicans will have subpoena power. Perhaps now is the time for the Obami and House Democrats to make amends with Smith, whose requests and inquiries have been repeatedly ignored. There is nothing quite like a new chairman with an axe to grind. Similarly in the Senate, wouldn’t it be better for the Democrats to have a hearing under the protective eye of Sen. Leahy? It’s a big risk to let things build and to hope that all the polls showing an impending landslide are wrong. They could be facing Chairman Kyl, you know.

Second, Congress is soon to recess. What if — like Rep. Brad Sherman — more Democrats are “ambushed” by constituents demanding answers about the case? (Note to Democratic friends: read up about the case; the voters don’t like it when you say you’ve never heard about something because the New York Times didn’t report on it.) Certainly, if confronted by irate voters, Democrats would prefer to say: “Yes, I’m concerned too about equal enforcement of civil rights laws. We sure are going to have a hearing on that. Now, let’s get back to the real issue in the campaign: George W. Bush.” Well, you get the idea.

Even if the media is in damage-control mode — playing dumb about the wider implications of the case — Republicans have no intention of going along with the charade. As a result, an unseemly scandal is about to get a whole lot more attention. Like it or not, the media may be obliged to follow the story — the whole story.

Read Less

NBC Catches Up on New Black Panther Case

As did the rest of the mainstream media, NBC News has ignored the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. Last night it finally aired a story. You can view the report here. For reasons that are not clear, Pete Williams omitted any mention of the most incendiary evidence, namely the testimony of multiple witnesses that the Obama Justice Department is averse to filing civil rights claims against minorities. Likewise, he failed to mention that the Obama Justice Department has tried to prevent the trial team from testifying or that there is evidence suggesting that a top Justice Department official, Thomas Perez, provided misleading testimony under oath. For NBC News to have done so would have entirely undermined the naysayers, who declare that this a trivial matter. But if you try to cram a year of reporting into a three-minute piece, a lot goes unsaid.

As an aside, more than one of these “catch up” pieces has asserted that there was no real racial intimidation at the polling place. This is wrong as a factual matter. Before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testimony was heard that two of the defendants tried to block the door when Chris Hill, a certified poll watcher, was going inside, but he walked past them. King Samir Shabazz yelled racial epithets at white poll watchers. There were eyewitnesses who testified that they saw voters turn away in fear at the sight of the Panthers, who were themselves blocked by the Panthers from entering the polls, and who talked to African-American Republicans, who were called race traitors.

It’s curious that the mainstream media, after ignoring the case, now seem to be making an effort to ignore key evidence and narrow the focus of the scandal. After all, if it was a really big, obvious, and far-reaching scandal, people would want to know where the liberal media have been all this time.

As did the rest of the mainstream media, NBC News has ignored the New Black Panther voter intimidation case. Last night it finally aired a story. You can view the report here. For reasons that are not clear, Pete Williams omitted any mention of the most incendiary evidence, namely the testimony of multiple witnesses that the Obama Justice Department is averse to filing civil rights claims against minorities. Likewise, he failed to mention that the Obama Justice Department has tried to prevent the trial team from testifying or that there is evidence suggesting that a top Justice Department official, Thomas Perez, provided misleading testimony under oath. For NBC News to have done so would have entirely undermined the naysayers, who declare that this a trivial matter. But if you try to cram a year of reporting into a three-minute piece, a lot goes unsaid.

As an aside, more than one of these “catch up” pieces has asserted that there was no real racial intimidation at the polling place. This is wrong as a factual matter. Before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testimony was heard that two of the defendants tried to block the door when Chris Hill, a certified poll watcher, was going inside, but he walked past them. King Samir Shabazz yelled racial epithets at white poll watchers. There were eyewitnesses who testified that they saw voters turn away in fear at the sight of the Panthers, who were themselves blocked by the Panthers from entering the polls, and who talked to African-American Republicans, who were called race traitors.

It’s curious that the mainstream media, after ignoring the case, now seem to be making an effort to ignore key evidence and narrow the focus of the scandal. After all, if it was a really big, obvious, and far-reaching scandal, people would want to know where the liberal media have been all this time.

Read Less

Did Thomas Perez Testify Truthfully?

J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department attorney who was a key member of its New Black Panther litigation team, made a splash when he testified that the Civil Rights Division under Obama is hostile to filing civil rights cases that don’t follow the historic pattern — i.e., a white defendant violating minorities’ rights. (Helpful summaries are found here and here.) It is, if accurate, far more explosive than the dismissal of an isolated case, as egregious as the withdrawal of a default judgment against the New Black Panthers was.

The notion that civil rights laws can’t or shouldn’t be used against a minority defendant who seeks to deprive others of their civil rights is noxious to most Americans. According to Adams’s testimony, however, it is a commonplace at the Justice Department and was articulated by Julie Fernandes, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Moreover, it raises a question as to whether Thomas Perez was being truthful to Congress and to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he testified under oath that he was unaware of any such sentiments. Before the Commission, Adams testified: “But Mr. Chris Coates and I and [Robert] Popper went and met with him the day before he testified here for about an hour, and we laid out all of our arguments and begged him not to testify inaccurately about the case.” He nevertheless testified that the case was unsupported by the law and the facts, and suggested the lawyers may have violated Rule 11, which provides for sanctions in the event of a frivolous legal action.

But that’s not all. A knowledgeable source tells me that at that same meeting, trial team head Chris Coates, who participated in the meeting by phone, explicitly warned him that there was a deep hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the law and he provided details to Perez. Sitting in the room with Perez were Adams and Popper. Perez had aides who were taking notes in the room. Nevertheless, under oath and before Congress and the Commission, Perez testified that he was unaware of such sentiments. If, indeed, he was briefed and then delivered this testimony, then he misled Congress and the Commission.

Now did he conduct a thorough investigation and find Coates unpersuasive? Well, the testimony before the Commission was the next day and I doubt there was time to commence — let alone complete — such an inquiry. Moreover, he denied having heard about such allegations. If he had been briefed the day before, this was patently untrue.

It is time for Congress to exercise appropriate oversight and get to the bottom of this issue. Moreover, since the Justice Department can’t investigate itself, I don’t see why a special prosecutor isn’t in order.

Now, two additional former DOJ attorneys have come forward to corroborate the hostility toward colorblind enforcement. Their affidavits can be read here. The witnesses are piling up and the stonewall is turning to rubble. We may finally be getting to the reason why Eric Holder’s Justice Department has done everything possible to keep members of the trial team from testifying. Their exposure is much greater than one case.

J. Christian Adams, the former Justice Department attorney who was a key member of its New Black Panther litigation team, made a splash when he testified that the Civil Rights Division under Obama is hostile to filing civil rights cases that don’t follow the historic pattern — i.e., a white defendant violating minorities’ rights. (Helpful summaries are found here and here.) It is, if accurate, far more explosive than the dismissal of an isolated case, as egregious as the withdrawal of a default judgment against the New Black Panthers was.

The notion that civil rights laws can’t or shouldn’t be used against a minority defendant who seeks to deprive others of their civil rights is noxious to most Americans. According to Adams’s testimony, however, it is a commonplace at the Justice Department and was articulated by Julie Fernandes, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Moreover, it raises a question as to whether Thomas Perez was being truthful to Congress and to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he testified under oath that he was unaware of any such sentiments. Before the Commission, Adams testified: “But Mr. Chris Coates and I and [Robert] Popper went and met with him the day before he testified here for about an hour, and we laid out all of our arguments and begged him not to testify inaccurately about the case.” He nevertheless testified that the case was unsupported by the law and the facts, and suggested the lawyers may have violated Rule 11, which provides for sanctions in the event of a frivolous legal action.

But that’s not all. A knowledgeable source tells me that at that same meeting, trial team head Chris Coates, who participated in the meeting by phone, explicitly warned him that there was a deep hostility to race-neutral enforcement of the law and he provided details to Perez. Sitting in the room with Perez were Adams and Popper. Perez had aides who were taking notes in the room. Nevertheless, under oath and before Congress and the Commission, Perez testified that he was unaware of such sentiments. If, indeed, he was briefed and then delivered this testimony, then he misled Congress and the Commission.

Now did he conduct a thorough investigation and find Coates unpersuasive? Well, the testimony before the Commission was the next day and I doubt there was time to commence — let alone complete — such an inquiry. Moreover, he denied having heard about such allegations. If he had been briefed the day before, this was patently untrue.

It is time for Congress to exercise appropriate oversight and get to the bottom of this issue. Moreover, since the Justice Department can’t investigate itself, I don’t see why a special prosecutor isn’t in order.

Now, two additional former DOJ attorneys have come forward to corroborate the hostility toward colorblind enforcement. Their affidavits can be read here. The witnesses are piling up and the stonewall is turning to rubble. We may finally be getting to the reason why Eric Holder’s Justice Department has done everything possible to keep members of the trial team from testifying. Their exposure is much greater than one case.

Read Less

Obama Civil Rights Head Defends Black Panther Dismissal

On Friday, the much anticipated testimony of Civil Rights division head Thomas Perez before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was heard. As the Washington Times reported, Perez implicitly rebuked both the trial team that filed the case and the appellate section that endorsed the work of the trial team:

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Friday there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in the 2008 general elections.

Mr. Perez, the only Justice Department official to testify publicly before the commission about the case, said that without sufficient proof that party members or the organization’s leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, directed or controlled unlawful activities at the poll or made speeches to incite or produce lawless action, the complaint “would have likely failed” in court.

Perez declared that, of course, the Justice Department is committed to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws regardless of the race of the defendants. But one commissioner, independent Todd Gaziano, isn’t buying it:

I wanted to believe there were all sorts of wrongheaded but NOT racist reasons for the decision to dismiss the defendants. But there are several reasons for me to believe that a racist application of the voting rights laws might have been at play. There is some evidence that is already in the public domain. Examples of that are the fact that there apparently is a culture in the civil rights division where some senior section chiefs and other supervising attorneys have expressed the view and engaged in conduct supporting that view that they don’t believe the voting rights laws should ever be enforced against blacks and other minorities. Those reports have been in the press in the past year or so and it seems to me from Perez’ response that he has done nothing to investigate whether that culture or those caustic views really are held by some of his supervising attorneys.”

And: “There is other evidence. There is the absence of a satisfactory explanation for why they did dismiss the Black Panther suit. Reasonable people know that if there is a racist reason for something and a good reason for something, and the reason has been called into question, a decent law enforcement agency when called to explain would want to provide the reasonable explanation – and they still haven’t done that. Third, [former civil rights division Voting Section chief] Chris Coates’ farewell address suggests that there still are several people in the division who do not believe in a race neutral application of the voting rights laws. And it seemed from Perez’ responses to me today that he did nothing specific to investigate why Chris Coates believed that [about his former co-workers].

So what now? The Justice Department continues to stonewall, refusing to allow witnesses with direct knowledge of the decision-making process to testify and refusing to appoint a special prosecutor to litigate the issue of the commission’s subpoenas. It’s quite a performance by an administration that promised to insulate from politics the work of its career attorneys. Well, one possibility is that one or more members of the trial team will defy the orders of their superiors not to testify and come forward to defend their work and reveal the interference they encountered. Another is that if the House flips control, congressional oversight will finally be undertaken and the appropriate witnesses subpoenaed and required to testify. One senses that after Perez’s performance and his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach to widespread reports that his division does have a double standard for civil rights enforcement, conscientious career lawyers must be mulling their options.

On Friday, the much anticipated testimony of Civil Rights division head Thomas Perez before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was heard. As the Washington Times reported, Perez implicitly rebuked both the trial team that filed the case and the appellate section that endorsed the work of the trial team:

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Friday there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a civil complaint against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in the 2008 general elections.

Mr. Perez, the only Justice Department official to testify publicly before the commission about the case, said that without sufficient proof that party members or the organization’s leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, directed or controlled unlawful activities at the poll or made speeches to incite or produce lawless action, the complaint “would have likely failed” in court.

Perez declared that, of course, the Justice Department is committed to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws regardless of the race of the defendants. But one commissioner, independent Todd Gaziano, isn’t buying it:

I wanted to believe there were all sorts of wrongheaded but NOT racist reasons for the decision to dismiss the defendants. But there are several reasons for me to believe that a racist application of the voting rights laws might have been at play. There is some evidence that is already in the public domain. Examples of that are the fact that there apparently is a culture in the civil rights division where some senior section chiefs and other supervising attorneys have expressed the view and engaged in conduct supporting that view that they don’t believe the voting rights laws should ever be enforced against blacks and other minorities. Those reports have been in the press in the past year or so and it seems to me from Perez’ response that he has done nothing to investigate whether that culture or those caustic views really are held by some of his supervising attorneys.”

And: “There is other evidence. There is the absence of a satisfactory explanation for why they did dismiss the Black Panther suit. Reasonable people know that if there is a racist reason for something and a good reason for something, and the reason has been called into question, a decent law enforcement agency when called to explain would want to provide the reasonable explanation – and they still haven’t done that. Third, [former civil rights division Voting Section chief] Chris Coates’ farewell address suggests that there still are several people in the division who do not believe in a race neutral application of the voting rights laws. And it seemed from Perez’ responses to me today that he did nothing specific to investigate why Chris Coates believed that [about his former co-workers].

So what now? The Justice Department continues to stonewall, refusing to allow witnesses with direct knowledge of the decision-making process to testify and refusing to appoint a special prosecutor to litigate the issue of the commission’s subpoenas. It’s quite a performance by an administration that promised to insulate from politics the work of its career attorneys. Well, one possibility is that one or more members of the trial team will defy the orders of their superiors not to testify and come forward to defend their work and reveal the interference they encountered. Another is that if the House flips control, congressional oversight will finally be undertaken and the appropriate witnesses subpoenaed and required to testify. One senses that after Perez’s performance and his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach to widespread reports that his division does have a double standard for civil rights enforcement, conscientious career lawyers must be mulling their options.

Read Less

No Executive Privilege Invoked by White House in Black Panther Case

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived – that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights resumes its hearings tomorrow. On tap will be civil rights division chief Thomas Perez. Today the commission sent a letter to two Justice Department officials, which reads in part:

[T]his is to confirm your representation that there has been no formal assertion of executive privilege with regard to any of the items sought by the Commission pursuant to its discovery requests. As discussed, this matter needs to be clarified. In its response to the Commission’s discovery requests, the Department claimed deliberative process privilege with regard to the materials sought. As recognized by the courts, the deliberative process privilege is a subset of executive privilege and “does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect the material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the government’s deliberations.” See In re Sealed Case, 326 U.S. App. D.C. 276, 284, 121 F.3d 729, 737 (1997).

In short, the Justice Department can’t have it both ways. If Obama has not invoked executive privilege, there is no legal basis for refusing any requested documents or for declining to answer the commission’s questions completely. In prior correspondence to the Justice Department, the commission cited binding precedent from the Office of Legal Counsel — which presumably has not changed its view since Eric Holder arrived – that unless the president or a top official invokes executive privilege, there is no other statutory or common law basis available to the department that would justify refusing to disclose information. And indeed, there is a federal law requiring the executive branch to co-operate with the commission’s work.

So what will Perez do tomorrow? It remains to be seen whether he will continue to stonewall as the commission presses for a detailed explanation as to why the case was dismissed and who played a role in ordering the dismissal. Will he suggest that the department’s trial team of lawyers was incompetent or derelict in bringing the case against the New Black Panther Party? Surely the professional staff at Justice, including those attorneys in the appellate section that endorsed the trial team’s recommendation, would find that quite shocking. And if those career lawyers were not mistaken in their assessment of the law and the facts, then what was the basis for dismissing the case? Moreover, is this Justice Department committed to enforcing the civil rights laws even when minorities are the perpetrators of voter intimidation? It should be an interesting proceeding tomorrow.

Read Less

Why Don’t Liberals Care About Voter Intimidation?

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists – simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights, provides a helpful summary of Friday’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther case. As he notes, it seems that Democrats don’t care much for the notion that the Justice Department should vigorously pursue a case of obvious and extreme voter intimidation that occurred at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. He writes:

The Democratic commissioners, especially Michael Yaki, a former Pelosi staffer, tried to minimize what happened in Philadelphia; he even said at one point that there may have been no more than a couple of people who were turned away. Yaki was unable to produce any evidence that would support that assertion.

Yaki’s Democratic colleague Arlan Melendez claimed the investigation was a waste of time and resources. According to him, everyone should just take the DOJ’s word that the case was meritless. Most of the other commissioners pointed out that the commission has a special mandate to protect voting rights and that not only was the Justice Department’s dismissal of this case inexplicable, but its refusal to provide information, documents, or witnesses violated the law in general and specifically its responsibility not to engage in selective enforcement.

Even after video and compelling testimony by veteran civil rights activist Bartle Bull and former deputy associate attorney general Greg Katsas left little doubt as to the egregious behavior of the New Black Panthers, the Democrats were unmoved:

The most amusing part of the hearing was watching Commissioner Yaki try to run interference for the Obama administration. Yaki was clearly unhappy to have the administration’s dirty linen dragged out into the public arena, and he did his best to try to cross up witnesses like Bull and Katsas when he was questioning them. Yaki obviously believes he’s a very smart lawyer, but Bull and Katsas both ran rings around him. Bull, who did an outstanding job of pointing out how outrageously the Panthers had acted in Philadelphia and how wrong the Justice Department was in dismissing this lawsuit. Imagine for a moment if members of a white supremacist group had shown up in paramilitary uniforms with swastikas at a polling place, and yet the Justice Department dropped a voter-intimidation lawsuit it had already won against the group. The hearing room at the commission would have been swarming with news crews, and C-SPAN would surely have covered the hearing live. However, none of that happened. C-SPAN wasn’t there, and neither was a single one of the national cable-news channels.

There really is no other explanation than the obvious one: the Obama Justice Department — aided and encouraged by their Democratic handmaidens on the commission, a compliant liberal media, and a chorus of professional civil rights activists – simply doesn’t believe that voter intimidation can be perpetrated by African-Americans. It is a “waste of time” in their minds to pursue the New Black Panthers because the “real” job of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is going after white racists. The laws are on the books to protect minorities and minorities only, they are convinced. We know from Chris Coates, a trial lawyer on the case, that this thinking is pervasive in the department. And Yaki inadvertently confirmed as much by his behavior at the hearing.

The head of the civil rights division, Thomas Perez, is due to testify before the commission in May. The commissioners should ask him about the seeming refusal of his department to fully and fairly apply the civil rights laws to all Americans. He will need to tread a careful line — too candid and he risks creating a firestorm (as average Americans don’t buy the idea that laws are there only for particular racial groups); too disingenuous and he risks offending the civil rights lobby. It will be interesting to watch.

Read Less

Democrats Not Interested in Voter Intimidation Case Scandal

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

Read Less