Full OPR Report Should End Media's NBPP Phony Scandal Once And For All

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

This afternoon, the House Committee on the Judiciary posted on their website the full report of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility from their investigation into the controversy surrounding DOJ's handling of the New Black Panther Party case. As previously indicated by OPR's March 29 letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), that committee's chairman, the report conclusively debunks the wild claims that the right-wing media has been making about the case.

As I noted when the letter was released, the right wing has been obsessed for nearly two years with the decision by 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. Those conspiracies have always seemed farfetched and politically motivated, but have now been definitely rebutted.

Right-wing media have claimed that the DOJ's actions were directed by top political appointees, including Attorney General Eric Holder, and asserted that only political partisanship or hostility to race-neutral justice could explain the decision to overrule the trial team. The OPR report found those claims to be utterly unfounded.

Regarding the involvement of political appointees in the case, ORP reported that the decision to overrule the trial team "was made by [Loretta King], based primarily upon her close consultation with [Steve] Rosenbaum, a [Civil Rights Division] supervisory attorney with thirty years of experience. Both King and Rosenbaum are career Department employees, although each was temporarily acting in a position subsequently filled by a political appointee."

OPR further found:

In making the decision to dismiss the three defendants, King did not receive direction from any political appointees. King reported developments in the case to the Associate Attorney General and the Attorney General and their staffs, but those offices did not instruct her to reach a particular outcome.

OPR reported that the Attorney General was briefed on the case "to advise him on the status of the case and possible future media interest," but that King neither sought nor received "input regarding the outcome of the case."

The report further makes clear that, right-wing comments to the contrary, the trial team had not already "won" the case when the senior DOJ attorneys stepped in - in fact, "in order to obtain default judgments against the national defendants, the government would be expected to present evidence at a hearing to support its allegations in the complaint."

OPR stated that King and Rosenbaum had disagreed in good faith with the trial team's belief that such judgment could be won. The report found that King determined that NBPP leader Zulu Shabazz's statements about the incident had been "more equivocal than the NBPP team had represented to her," and that he had not "endorse[d]" the actions of the Panthers who had allegedly intimidated voters. The report also stated that King and Rosenbaum discovered that the New Black Panther Party's national association had disavowed the incident shortly after it occurred, a fact not presented to them by the trial team.

This case has been a collapsing house of cards from the moment Fox News jettisoned it into the national conversation. The only question now is whether the network will double down on their fantasyland version of events - or choose to simply let the story fade away.

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