DOJ's Ethics Office: "No Evidence" To Support Right Wing's New Black Panthers Phony Scandal

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In a letter today to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Robin Ashton of the Justice Departments Office of Professional Responsibility, wrote that her investigation found that in their handling of the voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party, senior career attorneys at DOJ "did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately." The investigation also found "no evidence" that their decisions were improperly affected by political considerations or by the race of the defendants.

For nearly two years, the right wing has been obsessed with the decision by those senior career attorneys to drop civil charges against three defendants affiliated with the New Black Panther Party who allegedly intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. This fixation became stronger last year, when two DOJ attorneys on the trial team who are linked the Bush administration's politicization of the DOJ claimed in media appearances and in testimony that the DOJ's actions were part of a pattern of racially-charged corruption at the department, in which lawyers there refused to protect white voters from intimidation by minorities.

These allegations received a ready airing on Fox News, but they simply never added up: There was simply no evidence that this was anything more than a disagreement between career attorneys on how to apply a rarely-used provision of the Voting Rights Act; the Obama DOJ did get obtain an injunction against one of the defendants in the case; it also took action in another case to protect white voters from intimidation by black political leaders; and the Bush administration had failed to take action in a similar case in which Latino voters were allegedly intimidated by whites.

As the story dissolved, a broad and bipartisan group of media and political figures dismissed the supposed scandal, with the Republican vice-chair of the U. S. Civil Rights Commission condemning that partisan group's investigationas an attempt "to topple the administration."

Nonetheless, there is little hope that the right-wing bitter-enders who have been pushing this story will accept the conclusions of OPR. Last week, the foremost proponents of the New Black Panthers conspiracy, J. Christian Adams and Hans Von Spakovsky, began claiming that the "fix is in" because Adams' sources at DOJ had said that OPR would find no wrongdoing on the part of the attorneys who overruled Adams and his trial team. The pair also began what will likely become a right-wing drumbeat intended to undermine Ashton and OPR.

It's worth pointing out that every new revelation in this case has only served to diminish their own credibility and highlight their partisan motives.

From the OPR letter to Rep. Smith:

Based on the results of our investigation, we concluded that Department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately, in the exercise of their supervisory duties in connection with the dismissal of the three defendants in the NBPP case. We found no evidence that the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants was predicated on political considerations. We found that the decision by the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, a career Department employee, was made following appropriate consultations with, or notification to, career attorneys and supervisors, and Department leadership. We found no evidence of improper political interference or influence from within or outside the Department in connection with the decision in the case. In sum, we concluded that the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants and to seek more narrowly-tailored injunctive relief against King Samir Shabazz was predicated on a good faith assessment of the law and the facts of the case and had a reasonable basis. We found no evidence that political considerations were a motivating factor in reaching the decision.

We also concluded that the decision to initiate the NBPP case was based upon a good faith assessment of the facts and the law. We found no evidence that political considerations were a motivating factor in authorizing the civil action against the four defendants.

Finally, we found no evidence to support allegations (which were raised during the course of our investigation) that the decision makers, either in bringing or dismissing the claims, were influence by the race of the defendants, or any considerations other than an assessment of the evidence and the applicable law.

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