The Magazine

Truth, Justice, or the Obama Way

The Justice Department is forced to investigate itself.

Sep 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 02 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
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It is about to get harder for both the Obama administration and the mainstream media to downplay the New Black Panther party scandal. 

Truth, Justice, or the Obama Way

The mainstream media did their best to ignore this blatant case of voter intimidation by two New Black Panther party members at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008. Though the threatening behavior was captured on videotape, Obama political appointees dismissed the case on the eve of a default judgment. When in early June a key trial team member, Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams, resigned and then testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the media grudgingly reported on his testimony. 

But, despite Adams’s testimony that the case was indicative of a widespread aversion in the Voting Section to colorblind enforcement of the civil rights laws, the media framed the story as an isolated case unworthy of continuing coverage. After all, just one witness was claiming that this was the mindset in the Justice Department. And besides, the head of the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, had testified before both Congress and the commission that the case was legally and factually defective. He had also insisted there was no opposition in the department to enforcing civil rights laws against minority defendants.

In fact, there is ample evidence, including Justice Department emails obtained by The Weekly Standard, that Perez testified untruthfully. There is every reason to believe, moreover, that if allowed to testify, several other Justice Department attorneys would substantiate Adams’s allegations and contradict Perez’s sworn testimony. Not to mention that the department itself acknowledged last week that the matter of biased enforcement of voting laws requires investigation.


 

Until now, the Justice Department has refused to allow its lawyers to testify. On April 21, Jody Hunt, director of federal programs, whose office oversees the department’s dealings with other branches of government, emailed Adams’s attorney. Hunt explained: 

On behalf of the Department of Justice, I have communicated to the Commission that your client has not been authorized to give testimony at the hearing. Indeed, as I understand it, your client has not been scheduled by the Commission to provide testimony at the hearing. The Commission has accepted the Department’s offer to hear testimony from Tom Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, at a separate hearing to be scheduled in May. 

Department sources say that members of the trial team objected strongly and raised their objections with Hunt in writing. On May 11, for example, Adams emailed Hunt. He challenged the basis for the department’s refusal to allow his testimony, referring to his attorney’s legal citations. He then implored the department to change its position:

I would ask you to reconsider this decision and authorize at least one of the individuals who had factual and legal familiarity with the case to provide information to the Commission, whether me, former Voting Section Chief Christopher Coates, Deputy Chief Robert Popper, Attorney Spencer Fisher, or all four of us. 

Adams specifically warned Hunt of the danger to the department in allowing an attorney unfamiliar with the New Black Panther party case, Perez, to testify instead of the attorneys who had the most direct knowledge of the case: 

The first reason that the decision should be reconsidered is that there is the risk that inaccurate statements will be made about the case. I do not suggest that the scheduled witness will knowingly make false statements. Rather, my concern is that the scheduled witness did not participate in the case whatsoever, and will instead rely on characterizations of the facts and law provided by other Department employees, which I have reason to believe may be wildly inaccurate at best. Over the last several months, unattributed statements about the case by Department officials have been cited in media reports that are demonstrably false. Because the statements are never attributed, it is impossible to know whether these are people entirely unfamiliar with the matter, or are individuals upon whom the scheduled witness will rely. If the latter, there is a genuine risk that the scheduled witness will unknowingly provide inaccurate and incorrect testimony about the case. This could result in an extremely embarrassing situation for both the witness and the Department.  .  .  .  If the scheduled witness were to testify that there was no evidence, or insufficient or inadmissible evidence, to support agency liability [the legal theory for holding the New Black Panther Party and its head responsible], such testimony could prove to be grossly inaccurate.

He also warned Hunt:

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