Is the Fix In at Justice?
Appointing Robin Ashton to oversee ethical standards is like choosing a fox to guard the henhouse.


Hans A. von Spakovsky

Meanwhile, lawyers in the Justice Department tell me that the new OPR and IG lawyers assigned to the investigation of the Civil Rights Division show every sign of harboring the same bias toward any attorney in the division who has ever dared utter a conservative thought. The questioning of the career trial team has been “extremely hostile.” In one incident, the investigators started asking one of the trial-team lawyers about internal e-mails he had written several years before the New Black Panther Party case had even arisen. Reviewing antiquated e-mails of the career lawyers who worked on this case has no purpose unless the OPR and IG investigators are trying to find completely unconnected issues that they can use to tarnish the professional reputations of these attorneys, thus protecting Obama’s political appointees and disregarding their ethical and professional violations in the New Black Panther Party case.

“Given her partisan instincts and the loyalty she feels to the current attorney general,” one former DOJ lawyer told me, “there is no way that Robin Ashton will allow any report to come out that criticizes Eric Holder or his deputies.” Moreover, the lawyers in OPR and the IG’s office know that from a standpoint of professional advancement within Justice, their own careers would suffer if they came out with such a report.

To add insult to injury, Attorney General Holder, in an interview in the New York Times, improperly (and unprofessionally) commented on the open investigation of the New Black Panther Party case, saying, “There is no there there.” He also called the investigation of the hostility to racially neutral enforcement of the law in the Civil Rights Division a “made-up controversy.” Thus, the lawyers in OPR have been told by their attorney general what their conclusions should be in these investigations — never mind what facts they uncover.

Just to reinforce the message that Ashton will have a free hand to cover up the department’s wrongdoing, President Obama has given a recess appointment to Holder friend and administration loyalist James Cole to be the deputy attorney general, the number-two slot at Justice. It is Cole’s office that would review Ashton’s report on the results of OPR’s investigation into the Civil Rights Division.

The final element of the fix is that on January 18, Holder announced he was forming a new “Professional Misconduct Review Unit” that will be responsible for “all disciplinary and state-bar referral actions relating to OPR findings of professional misconduct.” In other words, even in the unlikely event that OPR finds misconduct, this new unit will decide whether to notify state bar authorities of OPR’s report. And whom did Holder put in charge of the new unit? Why, his loyal former chief of staff (and Obama campaign contributor) Kevin Ohlson.

Perhaps we will all be pleasantly surprised by Ashton’s performance. But if what lawyers who have worked with her at Justice tell me is true, I wouldn’t count on it. And that will be just one more long-lasting negative legacy of Eric Holder’s reign.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation ( and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department.


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