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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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Commanding our silence has created an inference that the attorneys who brought the case pursed a meritless action. Indeed, any future statements that the case did not have factual and legal merit would reinforce       this false inference. For example, there was testimony to the House Judiciary Committee [by Perez] that “Rule 11 [prohibiting frivolous actions] required” the dismissal of the action. Not only is this statement inaccurate, but it also calls into question the ethics of the attorneys who approved and brought the case. I can attest that my three colleagues were thoughtful, diligent, hard working, and beyond reproach throughout this case. Their experience with the Voting Rights Act is unmatched in any other part of the Department. Indeed, I would submit Christopher Coates and Robert Popper have far more experience in litigating voting law combined than just about any pair of Department attorneys you could produce.

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:

Commissioner Gaziano: If someone came to you and said that someone—someone in your Division, I should say, came to you and said, “A supervising attorney” or “a political appointee” made the statement that the voting rights laws should never be enforced against blacks or other racial minorities, you would investigate that report, wouldn’t you?

Asst. Atty Gen. Perez: I would take a look at the person who made the statement. I would take a look at the statement. And we would have a conversation about it.

Commissioner Gaziano: You would want to interview the people who were supposedly present when that statement was made, wouldn’t you?

Asst. Atty Gen. Perez: Yes, sir.

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.”

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