Media conservatives claim that the existence of communication between Justice Department attorneys proves that department officials lied when they said that career attorneys and not political appointees decided not to pursue additional charges against members of the New Black Panther Party. In fact, DOJ officials have said repeatedly that political appointees were made aware of the decision-making process.
Right wing latches on to a list of emails in desperate attempt to revive phony New Black Panther Party “scandal”
Judicial Watch: Emails “contradict testimony” by assistant AG. On September 20, Judicial Watch claimed that an index of emails released by the Department of Justice in response to a public records request contradicts “sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that no political leadership was involved in the decision” not to pursue additional charges against members of the New Black Panther Party. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton claimed:
These documents show the Obama Justice Department's decision to drop the Black Panther case was certainly political and potentially corrupt. ... The Black Panther decision is a scandal for the Obama administration and it merits serious attention by investigators. Assistant Attorney General Perez seems to have been less than candid in his sworn testimony when he said no political appointees were involved in the decision. This scandal has just gotten a whole lot worse for the Obama Justice Department. [Judicial Watch, 9/20/10]
J. Christian Adams: “New records show DOJ lied about New Black Panther Dismissal.” J. Christian Adams, a right-wing activist and former Justice Department attorney who has aggressively pushed the phony, racially charged "scandal," claimed in a Pajamas Media blog post that the email index was “an explosive announcement” that “shows -- in a rather dramatic way -- that the DOJ has been untruthful about who was involved in the dismissal of the case.” Adams wrote:
But the real whopper? DOJ's claim -- repeated over and over again -- that career civil servants were wholly responsible for the spiking of the case.
Today we learn, from the Department's own records, that this claim is demonstrably false.
The privilege log produced in the FOIA litigation contains stunning entries. They show regular discussions and deliberations between the highest political officials inside the DOJ, including the deputy attorney general and the associate attorney general, about what to do with the case. This contradicts numerous statements made to Congress, the Civil Rights Commission, and to the public.
Some of these statements were under oath. [Pajamas Media, 9/20/10]
Von Spakovsky: Emails “indicate that high-level Justice Department officials have been misleading the public and Congress.” Hans von Spakovsky, a former official in the politicized Bush Justice Department, wrote in a National Review Online blog post that the emails referenced in the index represented "[s]tunning new developments in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter-intimidation scandal" that “indicate that high-level Justice Department officials have been misleading the public and Congress” and “may have also committed perjury before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.” According to van Spakovsky, “The log details numerous discussions and legal deliberations between the Civil Rights Division and political appointees in the highest reaches of the Justice Department, including former deputy attorney general David Ogden and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli (the number-two and number-three officials under Eric Holder).” [National Review Online, 9/20/10]
Wash. Times: DOJ's “claim that political appointees were not involved in the case appears to be false.” A September 20 Washington Times editorial claimed that the email index “undermines the credibility of Mr. Perez and of the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder.” The editorial further claimed, “The department's claim that political appointees were not involved in the case appears to be false.” [The Washington Times, 9/20/10]
Fox Nation: “New Records Show DOJ Lied About Black Panther Dismissal.” Linking to Adams' Pajamas Media post, Fox Nation displayed the following headline on September 21:
Communication between career attorneys and political appointees is nothing new and consistent with past DOJ statements
Perez: “Whenever there is a decision involving a case that has attracted attention ... we obviously communicate that up the chain.” In his May 14 testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights -- the testimony media conservatives say is contradicted by the email index obtained by Judicial Watch -- Perez directly addressed lines of communications between political appointees and career attorneys. Asked by Chairman Gerald Reynolds to explain whether career attorneys or political appointees have “the responsibility and the ownership” for decisions, Perez responded:
Let me give you how our lines of communication work because I think this is responsive to your question. We meet regularly with -- my direct supervisor in the Civil Rights Division is the Associate Attorney General.
We meet on a weekly basis to communicate with him what is happening in the Division. There are representatives of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General's office in those meetings.
And there are coordination meetings here, 'Here are the significant things that are happening. Here are the significant things that are going on in the weeks ahead.'
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. [U.S. Commission on Civil Rights testimony, 5/14/10]
DOJ: “Consistent with the Department's practice,” attorneys “informed Department supervisors of the Division's decisions related to the case.” In a January 11 response to interrogatories and document requests made by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Justice Department said that "[c]areer supervising attorneys" made the decision not to pursue additional charges in the case and that “political considerations had no role in that decision.” The response document -- filed with the Civil Rights Commission and made public -- also 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":
Career supervising attorneys who have over 60 years of experience at the Department between them decided not to seek relief against three other defendants after a thorough review of the facts and applicable legal precedent. The Department implemented that decision. Political considerations had no role in that decision and reports that political appointees interfered with the advice of career attorneys are false.
Consistent 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. The Department supervisors did not overrule that attorney. [Response of the Department of Justice to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1/11/10]
DOJ: “As is customary with complex or potentially controversial issues” attorneys “advised the Associate Attorney General.” In a supplemental document filed with the commission in April, the DOJ further explained that decisions related to the New Black Panther Party case were communicated with the Office of the Associate Attorney General:
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. [Letter to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights general counsel, 4/16/10]
Phony “scandal” does not stand up to the evidence
Right-wing activists and Fox News promoted unsubstantiated allegations based on hearsay. Right-wing media figures -- led by Adams -- have relied on distorted evidence and hearsay to accuse the Obama Justice Department of racially charged “corruption” based on the decision not to pursue additional charges against members of the New Black Panther Party accused of intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling center in 2008, claiming that the decision was based on “hostility in the voting rights section to bringing cases on behalf of white victims for the benefit of national racial minorities.” Fox News has discussed the phony scandal during more than 100 segments since June 30.
Unsubstantiated allegations can't stand up to facts. Adams has acknowledged lacking firsthand knowledge of the events he has cited to support his claims, and the suggestion that the Civil Rights Division in the Obama DOJ is hostile to “bringing cases on behalf of white victims for the benefit of national racial minorities” falls apart given the fact that the Obama DOJ obtained judgment against one defendant in the case and requested additional judgment against black leaders in Mississippi who were found to have discriminated against white voters.
Conservative Civil Rights Commission vice chair ridiculed commission's investigation. A July 16 Politico article reported that Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican who serves as vice chair of the Civil Rights Commission and who is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers, this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration.” Politico also quoted Thernstrom saying, “My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president.”