Right-wing activists J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky are looking to reignite the phony New Black Panther Party scandal, claiming that emails between political appointees and career Justice attorneys are "stunning new developments in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter-intimidation scandal" and "proof" that the "DOJ lied" and "may also have committed perjury before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights."
In fact, Justice Department officials have long made clear that political appointees were kept informed of the decision-making process as it developed -- a fact that is in no way at odds with the statement that career attorneys made the final decision.
At issue is an index of communications -- commonly referred to as a Vaughn index -- between Justice Department lawyers from April and May 2009, released in response to a public records request from Judicial Watch.
According to Judicial Watch, the emails "contradict testimony" given by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez before the Civil Rights Commission in May, specifically Perez's statements that the decision not to pursue additional charges in the case was made by career attorneys and that political leadership was not involved in the decision.
Adams -- desperate still to breathe new life into the completely discredited "scandal" -- was quick to pounce:
Judicial Watch made an explosive announcement today about the Justice Department's stonewalling in the New Black Panther voter intimidation case dismissal. Forced to bring a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit after DOJ rebuffed its public records request (so much for transparency), Judicial Watch obtained a privilege log from the DOJ last week.
It shows -- in a rather dramatic way -- that the DOJ has been untruthful about who was involved in the dismissal of the case.
Over at National Review Online's The Corner blog, von Spakovsky wrote that the log shows "extensive communications about the NBPP case between the top lawyers in the Civil Rights Division -- especially Steven Rosenbaum, the acting deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in charge of voting rights -- and the Office of the Associate Attorney General, including Steve Hirsch, the deputy associate attorney general who serves as [Associate Attorney General Thomas] Perrelli's right-hand man." Von Spakovsky later wrote:
The log reveals that on April 30, 2009, the day before the Justice Department was supposed to file its default judgment, and the same day that the trial lawyers in the case were suddenly told to seek a two-week delay instead, Rosenbaum and Hirsh sent each other eight e-mails about the lawsuit. The description of these emails states that they are privileged because they are "predecisional and contain deliberations between the CRT Front Office and his supervisor in OASG." In other words, there were legal "deliberations" going on between Rosenbaum and his supervisor in the Office of the Associate Attorney General, Steve Hirsch. The log also shows a flurry of emails between Hirsch and Perrelli on April 30.
Just before the May 15 deadline, when the trial team was ordered to dismiss virtually the entire case, there are once again numerous emails (13 in May, to be exact) between Hirsch and Associate Attorney General Perrelli. Some of the subject lines were "Where are we on the Black Panther case" and "New Black Panther Party -- your questions." The privilege log description says the e-mails concern updates on the NBPP litigation and "not[e] ODAG's current thoughts on the case." ODAG is Justice-speak for the Office of the Deputy Attorney General -- held then by David Ogden, who apparently had "thoughts" about how this case should be handled. The log further shows that all of the revised pleadings that were going to be filed to dismiss the case were sent to Hirsch for his (among others?) review.
But the existence of communication between career attorneys and political appointees discussing the case are nothing new. The Justice Department informed the Civil Rights Commission as much in documents filed with the commission in January:
Career supervising attorneys who have over 60 years of experience at the Department between them decided not to seek relief against three other defendants after a thorough review of the facts and applicable legal precedent. The Department implemented that decision. Political considerations had no role in that decision and reports that political appointees interfered with the advice of career attorneys are false.
Consistent with the Department's practice, the attorney serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights informed Department supervisors of the Division's decisions related to the case. The Department supervisors did not overrule that attorney.
In April 16 documents filed before the commission, the department further addressed the issue of career attorneys discussing their decisions with political appointees:
As is customary with complex or potentially controversial issues, the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights advised the Associate Attorney General that she was making a case-based assessment of how to proceed in this case, engaged in discussions about how to proceed with the Associate Attorney General's staff, and informed the Associate's office of her decision before it was implemented.
Perez himself addressed the lines of communication during his May testimony before the Civil Rights Commission, saying:
We meet regularly with -- my direct supervisor in the Civil Rights Division is the Associate Attorney General.
We meet on a weekly basis to communicate with him what is happening in the Division. There are representatives of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General's office in those meetings.
And there are coordination meetings here, 'Here are the significant things that are happening. Here are the significant things that are going on in the weeks ahead.'
Whenever there is a decision involving a case that has attracted attention, we -- when the decision is made, we obviously communicate that up the chain.
J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky are deeply tied to the highly politicized Bush Justice Department and have routinely distorted the record, cited hearsay evidence, and omitted facts that completely undermine their racially charged accusations that the Obama Justice Department is corrupt, enabled throughout the process by the Fox News media machine and a highly politicized U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Their latest salvo comes just days before the Commission is scheduled to discuss approval of a New Black Panther Party Enforcement Report -- a report based on hearings that the GOP vice chair of the commission has said are "small potatoes" and an effort by conservatives on the commission to "topple" the Obama administration.