The Blog

Rot at the DOJ

The Scrapbook weighs in.

10:08 AM, Sep 27, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has chronicled the Department of Justice’s voting rights scandal with the New Black Panther Party from the very beginning. (See Jennifer Rubin’s pieces here, here, here, and here.) Finally, it seems, the mainstream press is catching on, as the Washington Post ran a front-page story on the scandal in Saturday’s paper. In the latest issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, The Scrapbook weighs in:

It was a bad week for the Obama Justice Department. Officials there have maintained that the decision to dismiss a blatant voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther party was made by career attorneys and was not indicative of hostility toward enforcement of civil rights laws against minority defendants. (In May the chief of the DOJ’s civil rights division, Thomas Perez, said, “This was a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”) Such assertions crumbled this week.

The week started badly for the “no big deal” crowd when Judicial Watch released the results of a Freedom of Information Act request. Judicial Watch obtained a document log showing that Attorney General Eric Holder’s top aides were pulling all the strings. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden (the department’s No. 2, who resigned earlier this year), Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli (the No. 3 man), and Perrelli’s deputy Sam Hirsch took an active role—weighing in regularly, reviewing documents, and whittling down the injunction for the single defendant (who had brandished a billy club at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008) not dismissed from the case. The record shows that the Obama political appointees were running the show.

On Wednesday Judicial Watch sued the Obama administration to obtain documents relating to Perrelli that the administration had previously claimed did not exist.

But as revealing as all that was, it was small potatoes compared with the testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights of Chris Coates, the head of the New Black Panther trial team and a current assistant U.S. attorney.

Until last Friday Coates had complied with the department’s edict not to testify. But on September 22 he wrote to the commission asking to testify. The following day he visited Rep. Frank Wolf to tell his story, prompting Wolf to write a letter to the attorney general reminding him that Coates was protected from retaliation under federal whistleblower statutes.

On September 24, a standing room only crowd with a network pool camera in the usually quiet commission hearing room heard Coates’s rip-roaring opening statement declaring that Perez’s May testimony did not “accurately reflect what occurred” in the case and did “not reflect the hostile atmosphere that has existed within the [Civil Rights Division] for a long time toward race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.” He allowed that Perez was simply unaware of the relevant facts. He then described instances in which hostility to colorblind enforcement of civil rights laws was evident. He cited “widespread” opposition to bringing a clear cut voting discrimination case in Noxubee, Mississippi, against black defendants. One attorney had told Coates “in no uncertain terms that he had not come to the Voting Section to sue African American defendants.”

Confirming the July testimony of former DOJ lawyer J. Christian Adams, Coates testified that Voting Section attorneys believed civil rights laws were meant to defend only “traditional” victims (i.e. minorities). Coates recounted that in interviewing prospective department attorneys he would therefore ask if they could enforce laws in a race-neutral fashion. In the spring of 2009 he was summoned to the office of Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general, who told him she was “offended” that Coates would ask such a question and ordered him to stop. Race-neutral enforcement of the civil rights laws, despite Perez’s testimony, isn’t what the Obama team has in mind when vowing to step up civil rights enforcement.

Coates also related, as THE WEEKLY STANDARD previously reported, that an NAACP attorney, Kristen Clarke, had been hostile to cases brought against African Americans and was “lobbying for dismissal of the NBPP case.”

Coates was emphatic that the dismissal of the case “was ordered because people calling the shots in May 2009 were angry at the filing of [the Noxubee case] and angry at our filing of [the New Black Panther party] case. That anger was the result of their deep-seated opposition to the equal enforcement of the [Voting Rights Act] against racial minorities and for the protection of whites who have been discriminated against.”

In his opening statement and during rounds of questioning Coates detailed the statements of Julie Fernandez, Obama’s pick for deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, in Voting Section meetings in September and December 2009. She declared the section “was only interested in bringing traditional types of .  .  . cases that would provide political equality for racial and language minority voters.”

At several points Coates confirmed what we have previously reported in these pages—the screaming match between Coates and Obama officials when they began efforts to quash the case and Coates’s briefing of Perez just before the civil rights chief testified before the commission. Coates had described Justice’s hostility toward race-neutral enforcement of voting laws; Perez under oath denied knowledge of such hostility. Coates gave a rousing defense of neutral enforcement of civil rights laws, calling the dismissal of the New Black Panther case dismissal a “travesty of justice.”

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from an independent Justice Department source that the substance of Coates’s testimony was documented in an April 2010 letter on Justice Department stationery. That information was presented to and available to Perez and other officials well in advance of Perez’s May 14 testimony.

We’ll see if the mainstream media now perk up. In any event, if Republicans win control of the House or Senate, new committee chairmen will want to know what the attorney general and his closest advisers knew and when they knew it.

Here’s Coates’s full testimony from Friday. And here’s Jennifer Rubin’s latest bit on the story at Commentary’s blog Contentions.

Recent Blog Posts