The Stonewalling of the New Black Panther Party Investigation

by Peter Kirsanow

The first phase of the investigation into matters related to the Department of Justice’s dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case has come to a close with the transmittal of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ interim report to the president and Congress. The next step is up to Congress.

The report is an “interim” one because the Commission has been prevented from adducing any further evidence on the NBPP matter due to DOJ’s stonewalling. And the stonewalling has been remarkable, especially given DOJ’s statutory obligation to “cooperate fully with the Commission to the end that it may effectively carry out its functions and duties.”

The Commission’s report chronicles the extraordinary lengths to which DOJ has gone in withholding vital information from the Commission. For example, DOJ prevented subpoenaed individuals from appearing at depositions and hearings. In one two-month period alone (the Commission’s investigation lasted for a year-and-a-half), DOJ refused no fewer than five separate requests to release DOJ personnel to testify. The Department directed two whistleblowers — attorneys J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates — not to testify (both defied DOJ’s directives at great risk to their respective careers). Furthermore, the Department continued to refuse to allow Coates to testify even after the Commission took specific steps to accommodate each and every one of the Department’s purported concerns about his testimony.

When Commission staff offered to meet with DOJ personnel to discuss a variety of discovery-related concerns so as to avoid extensive delays and disruptions, the Department rebuffed the effort. The Department then flatly refused to provide substantive responses to the discovery requests. It also refused to identify the specific nature of the specious privileges it asserted, refused to provide a privilege log, and on and on.

So the Commission’s investigation can proceed no farther. In the last week the composition of the Commission changed, and the newly-constituted Commission will terminate the investigation.

Nonetheless, the Commission’s investigation produced a significant amount of evidence. That evidence shows, among many other troubling things, that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division discriminates on the basis of race in the enforcement of some of  the nation’s civil rights laws.

But there’s a lot more to be done. Much information remains uncovered because DOJ refused to enforce the Commission’s subpoenas. Congress can and should get the information.

— Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

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