Discussing Justice Department lawyer Christopher Coates' testimony on the phony New Black Panthers Party scandal, Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly pushed claims that the case shows the Obama administration's Justice Department is “not interested” in protecting white voters from discrimination. But their claims were riddled with falsehoods and misrepresentations.
O'Reilly falsely claims Obama DOJ “moved to dismiss criminal charges against the Panthers”
O'Reilly blames Obama administration for not obtaining criminal convictions against New Black Panthers. From the September 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Back in January of 2009, three Black Panthers were charged with violating the Voting Rights Act. That civil action stemmed from two Panthers standing in front of a Philadelphia polling place during the presidential election, one of them holding a club. There is no doubt the Panthers committed the act, and they didn't even bother showing up in court to fight the charges. Nevertheless, in May of 2009, the Obama administration moved to dismiss criminal action against the Panthers, and that caused a national outcry.
REALITY: Bush DOJ, not Obama, made decision not to pursue criminal charges. Before President Bush left office, the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint asking for an injunction against the New Black Panther Party and some of its members. In his May 14 testimony before the Commission on Civil Rights, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez explained that the Bush administration's Justice Department “determined that the facts did not constitute a prosecutable violation of the criminal statutes” but did “file a civil action on January 7th, 2009.”
Kelly corrects O'Reilly, then falsely claims Obama DOJ “dropped” civil case
Kelly “correct[s]” O'Reilly on criminal charges with falsehood about civil case. From The O'Reilly Factor:
KELLY: Just to correct something in your “Talking Points,” you said that Eric Holder failed to bring a criminal investigation. It was the Bush administration that failed to bring a criminal investigation. They brought a civil investigation, and that's what Holder dropped after he won it.
O'REILLY: OK, but they -- but Holder wouldn't bring criminal charges.
KELLY: Neither Bush nor Holder would bring criminal.
O'REILLY: OK. OK. He could have?
KELLY: Yeah. Either one could have.
O'REILLY: And the Bush Justice Department could have too. But remember, how long did Bush have? Two months. And he wasn't thinking about that, he was thinking about his new house in Dallas and getting out of town. Come on.
KELLY: What's at issue in the case -- what's at issue in the case is that the Bush administration brought civil charges, they won the case -- they won the case -- and after they won it, Holder yanked the victory.
REALITY: DOJ actually obtained default judgment against Shabazz for carrying weapon outside polling station. On May 18, 2009, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered default judgment against Samir Shabazz. In his May 14 testimony before the Commission on Civil Rights, Perez stated that the Justice Department had obtained “sufficient evidence to sustain the charge” of voter intimidation against Shabazz, identified by Perez as “the defendant who had the nightstick,” and that “the default judgment was sought and obtained as it related to him.”
Kelly runs with right-wing falsehood that emails cast “serious doubt” on DOJ statements
Kelly: “Judicial Watch obtained some documents that cast some serious doubt on testimony given by” DOJ's Perez. From The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: What was the tipping point for Coates, because this story has been a little dormant now for the past few months, I'd say.
KELLY: I don't know. He didn't testify to exactly what it was that did it. I can tell you, in the news lately, Judicial Watch obtained some documents that cast some serious doubt on testimony given by a guy named Tom Perez to the Commission on Civil Rights, and there were some other instances that may have led Mr. Coates to realize it's finally time.
Kelly's claim echoed right-wing assertions that an index of emails released by the Department of Justice contradict “sworn testimony” that “no political leadership was involved in the decision” not to pursue additional charges in the case.
REALITY: DOJ has repeatedly said that political appointees were made aware of the decision-making process. In his May 14 testimony before the Civil Rights Commission, Perez directly addressed the lines of communications between political appointees and career attorneys, saying: “Whenever there is a decision involving a case that has attracted attention, we -- when the decision is made, we obviously communicate that up the chain.” In a January 11 response to interrogatories and document requests made by the commission, the DOJ made clear that "[c]onsistent with the Department's practice, the attorney serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil rights informed Department supervisors of the Division's decisions related to the case." In an April supplemental filed with the commission, DOJ officials further explained:
As is customary with complex or potentially controversial issues, the then-Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights advised the Associate Attorney General that she was making a case-based assessment of how to proceed in this case, engaged in discussions about how to proceed with the Associate Attorney General's staff, and informed the Associate's office of her decision before it was implemented.
O'Reilly says “true member of the team” Coates doesn't have an “ideological axe to grind”
O'Reilly cites ACLU, NAACP ties to claim Coates is “not some right-wing guy.” O'Reilly said, “As for Mr. Coates, he is not some right-wing guy. He actually worked for the voting rights project of the ACLU, and in 1991 he received the Thurgood Marshall Decade Award from the Georgia NAACP. So this is not a man with an ideological axe to grind.”
REALITY: Coates reportedly filed a “reverse-discrimination” complaint against DOJ and became “more conservative” after not being promoted. A 2007 McClatchy Newspapers article connected Coates to Bradley Schlozman and the Bush-era politicization of the Justice Department. McClatchy reported that Schlozman attempted to refute the notion that the DOJ had used political ideology in its personnel practices in part by citing “the promotion of Chris Coates, a former ACLU voting counsel, to serve as top deputy chief of the voting section.” McClatchy went on to report that Joseph Rich, then head of the DOJ's voting rights section, and other DOJ lawyers interviewed said that Coates “seemed to grow more conservative after his superiors passed him over for a promotion in favor of an African-American woman, and he filed a reverse-discrimination suit.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 5/6/07]
REALITY: Schlozman reportedly identified Coates as a “true member of the team.” A July 2008 report from the Department of Justice Inspector General's Office and the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Schlozman improperly considered ideology when making personnel decisions and cited numerous emails in which Schlozman discussed adding conservative members to “the team.” In a January 8, 2010, American Prospect article, Adam Serwer reported that “several current and former Justice Department officials” identified Coates as the attorney Schlozman called “a very different man” from his days of working for the American Civil Liberties Union and “a true member of the team” while recommending him for a job:
At first glance, Coates' extensive experience with voting rights -- he first worked for the American Civil Liberties Union and later the Justice Department -- made him look like just another career attorney. But Coates' current and former colleagues at the Justice Department say Coates underwent an ideological conversion shortly after a black lawyer in the Voting Rights Section, Gilda Daniels, was promoted to deputy section chief over him in July of 2000. Outraged, Coates filed a complaint alleging he was passed up for the job because he is white. The matter was settled internally.
“He thought he should have been hired instead of her,” said one former official in the Voting Section. “That had an impact on his views ... he became more conservative over time.”
Coates' star rose during the Bush administration, during which he was promoted to principal deputy section chief. While not mentioned by name, Coates has been identified by several current and former Justice Department officials as the anonymous Voting Section lawyer, referred to in the joint Inspector General/Office of Professional Responsibility report, that Schlozman recommended for an immigration judge position. Immigration judges have jurisdiction over whether or not foreign nationals are deported. In his letter to Monica Goodling, a former senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who was implicated in the scandal involving politicized hiring, Schlozman wrote of Coates:
Don't be dissuaded by his ACLU work on voting matters from years ago. This is a very different man, and particularly on immigration issues, he is a true member of the team. [The American Prospect, 1/8/10]
In his September 24 testimony, Coates said that he believed he was the person Schlozman was referring to as a “true member of the team.”