The Corner

Troubling Developments in the New Black Panther Party Case Investigation

For more than a year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been investigating the Justice Department’s enforcement of civil-rights laws, during which time the commission has sent numerous interrogatories and requests for production of documents pertaining to civil-rights enforcement to the DOJ. The department has a statutory duty to cooperate with investigations conducted by the commission.

The DOJ’s cooperation with the investigation has been, to put it charitably, grudging. The department refused to turn over a number of requested documents, asserting a variety of specious privileges. In response, the commission requested a privilege log, i.e., a list of those documents the DOJ maintains are protected by privilege and therefore not subject to production. The DOJ failed to produce such a log.

Now, pursuant to a FOIA lawsuit filed by JudicialWatch, the DOJ has finally provided a privilege log (not to the commission, but to JudicialWatch). Commissioners received a copy yesterday. As Hans von Spakovsky noted here yesterday, its contents are quite remarkable.

Throughout the commission’s investigation, the DOJ insisted that no Obama political appointees were involved in deliberations to dismiss the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case; only career attorneys were involved. The DOJ’s insistence on this point culminated with the sworn testimony of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez before the commission on May 14:

Commissioner Kirsanow: Was there any political leadership involved in the decision not to pursue this particular case any further than it was?

Asst. Atty. Gen. Perez: No. The decisions were made by (DOJ career attorneys) Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum, who is Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

The DOJ provided the same responses to members of Congress. The department never departed from that position.

That’s why the revelations contained in the privilege log are extraordinary. The log identifies more than 50 e-mails between high-level Obama political appointees and career attorneys involving “the Government’s decisionmaking process” and “predecisional deliberations” involving the NBPP case — all in close temporal proximity to the DOJ’s otherwise bewildering decision to drop a case it had already won.

The import of these developments cannot be overstated. Former DOJ Voting Section attorney Christian Adams testified before the commission that a high-level political appointee announced to Voting Section attorneys that the Obama administration’s Voting Section will not bring voting-rights cases on behalf of white victims or against black defendants. Adams also testified that a high-level political appointee instructed the Voting Section that the Obama administration will not enforce Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (ensuring that those voting are actually eligible).

Adams’ testimony was roundly dismissed or ignored   by the mainstream media as mere partisan spin. But now the privilege log suggests intense involvement in a voting-rights case by high-level political appointees at the DOJ.

The commission is scheduled to vote on its report to the president and Congress on the NBPP case during its public meeting this Friday. The new revelations will, no doubt, be part of that discussion.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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