Truth, Justice, or the Obama Way
The Justice Department is forced to investigate itself.
Sep 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 02 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
It is about to get harder for both the Obama administration and the mainstream media to downplay the New Black Panther party scandal.
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:
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:
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:
He also warned Hunt:
To put it bluntly, Adams was warning the Department that Perez had already testified inaccurately before Congress and that allowing him to do so again would be an intentional attempt to mislead the civil rights commission.
Shortly thereafter Adams received a call from the Voting Section head, Chris Herren. Herren said he understood Adams wanted to meet with Perez. Adams said he had not asked for a meeting. Herren repeated, “You said you wanted to meet with Perez.” Adams reiterated that he had not. It became obvious, however, that Perez wanted to meet with him.
Hunt arranged a meeting on Tuesday, May 12, three days before Perez was to testify before the civil rights commission. Adams, Popper, Perez, Hunt, and two other department attorneys met in the 5th floor conference room in the Main Justice Department building. Coates joined them by speaker phone.
Coates, Popper, and Adams spoke for approximately 45 minutes. Coates informed Perez that the case had been dismissed because of hostility to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws. Popper went next, explaining how solid the case was. He became animated and lashed out at Perez for testifying that the attorneys had violated Rule 11—that is, committed an ethical violation. Adams spoke last, making the case that the 14th Amendment required equal enforcement of the civil rights laws and that it was dangerous for the department and the country to go down the road of unequal enforcement of the law.
During the meeting Perez said nothing. Was he taking the information to heart so he could investigate the serious allegations or simply, like an attorney in an explosive case, taking the deposition of the most powerful witnesses to see how effective they were and what damage they could do?
The answer became clear that Friday when Perez testified before the civil rights commission. He reiterated his view that the case was legally and factually deficient. Perhaps wary of Popper’s reaction, he avoided restating that the trial team had acted contrary to Rule 11.
Perez then testified under oath that the department had no attorneys opposed to the equal enforcement of the voting rights law. “We don’t have people that are of that ilk, sir,” he said in response to the questioning of commissioner Todd Gaziano. This was a blatant misstatement, as Coates and Adams had told him three days before. There was also this exchange:
But Perez conducted no investigation after being briefed by not one, but three attorneys.
Gaziano told me, “Perez’s refusal to give me a straight answer to many of my questions suggested he might be trying to hide something. If there is evidence that he knew of statements or actions in his division demonstrating hostility to the race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws before he testified, that would be very troubling. If so, his testimony would be misleading at best, instead of simply uninformed.”
Then suddenly last week, months after Perez’s testimony, the inspector general of the Department of Justice, who previously had refused to investigate the matter, sent a letter to representatives Lamar Smith and Frank Wolf advising them that in response to their requests in July and August the inspector general would undertake an investigation of the Voting Section’s enforcement of civil rights laws. Echoing the civil rights commission’s yearlong investigation, the inspector general’s probe will examine
It remains to be seen whether this is an effort by the department to take the investigation behind closed doors or actually to get to the bottom of a mushrooming scandal.
In any event, despite the Obama team’s best efforts to stonewall and the mainstream media’s indifference to an abuse of power in a Democratic administration, the notion that the New Black Panther party case is “no big deal” is crumbling. We know that a high ranking political appointee presented misleading testimony under oath and that multiple witnesses would testify to the Obama administration’s hostility to the equal enforcement of our civil rights laws. Now an internal investigation is exploring those issues. In a Republican administration that would be front-page news.
Jennifer Rubin is Commentary magazine’s contributing editor.
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