Court Rules DOJ Politicized Black Panther Case
Judicial Watch has been confident for some time that the evidence shows that political appointees at the Holder Department of Justice (DOJ) were involved in the decision to abandon the DOJ’s own voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party. And we’ve also been concerned that at least one high ranking DOJ official lied about it under oath.
In a major victory for Judicial Watch, a federal court seems to agree with our analysis of this continuing scandal.
The ruling came courtesy of Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in response to Judicial Watch’s effort to obtain attorney’s fees from the DOJ for stonewalling the release of documents pertaining to the Black Panther scandal. Here’s the key quote from Judge Walton’s ruling:
The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision. Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials’ representations regarding the possible politicization of agency decision-making.
In sum, the Court concludes that three of the four fee entitlement factors weigh in favor of awarding fees to Judicial Watch. Therefore, Judicial Watch is both eligible and entitled to fees and costs, and the Court must now consider the reasonableness of Judicial Watch’s requested award.
So, in short, this ruling is further confirmation that political appointees at the DOJ did interfere in the Black Panther case. Assistant AG Perez’s testimony was false. And the American people have a right to documents related to the scandal. That’s pretty much a clear-cut victory.
By way of review, this all started on Election Day 2008, when members of the New Black Panther Party stood guard at a polling station in Philadelphia, PA, brandishing weapons and threatening voters. A video of the incident was widely distributed on the Internet. The DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against the Black Panthers, but ultimately overruled members of its own staff and dismissed the majority of the charges.
The Black Panther lawsuit dismissal led to accusations of racism at the DOJ from within its own ranks. Former DOJ lawyer J. Christian Adams, who called the actions by Black Panthers, “the simplest and most obvious violation of federal law” he had ever seen during his career at the DOJ, resigned from his position as a result of the case dismissal.
Given the massive media attention earned by the Black Panther case dismissal, people started questioning whether or not the decision was politically motivated -- including the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The Commission, an independent, bipartisan unit of the federal government charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights issues, initiated a probe of the DOJ’s decision to drop its lawsuit. During the hearing, Assistant AG Perez was asked directly regarding the involvement of political leaders in the decision to dismiss the Black Panther case.
And here’s what he said in his testimony:
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 Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum, who is the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
On September 20, JW released a draft Vaughn index prepared by the DOJ that shows that top political appointees at the DOJ were involved in the decision to dismiss the case. The index, which we acquired pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, describes documents the government is withholding from the public.
Included in the index was a description of a series of emails between Assistant Deputy Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch. The back-and-forth emails occurred on April 30, 2009, the day before the case was dropped. Hirsch has been described by Slate magazine as a “DC election lawyer who represents a lot of Democrats” prior to joining the DOJ. Hirsch is also a former Obama donor.
Also among the documents were internal DOJ emails regarding the Black Panther case between former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and the Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, the second and third ranking officials at the DOJ.
Here’s one example: A May 10, 2009, email from Associate Attorney General Perrelli to Deputy Associate Attorney General and former Democratic election lawyer Sam Hirsch. “Where are we on the Black Panther case?” Perrelli asks in the subject header. The email also includes Deputy Attorney General Ogden’s “current thoughts on the case.”
So what about the top ranking official at DOJ, Attorney General Eric Holder?
An email from former Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, dated May 12, 2009, was distributed directly to Attorney General Eric Holder through Odgen and Perrelli. Entitled, “Weekly Report for the Week Ending May 8, 2009,” the email “Identifies matters deemed significant and highlights issues for the senior offices, including an update on a planned course of action in the NBPP (New Black Panther Party) litigation.”
Evidently Holder was in the loop as well. Okay, next question: What about the Obama White House?
Press reports indicated that at least nine meetings between Perrelli and White House officials between March 25 and May 27, 2009, regarding the Black Panther case. (JW filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to get to the truth in the matter but were unable to find evidence of a direct White House link (not that Messrs. Perrelli and Hirsch needed to be told what to do).
So the Black Panther scandal, which we were told was managed by low level DOJ officials, might just go all the way to the very top.
Expect the news regarding this case to continue to reverberate. The Court’s decision is another piece of evidence showing the Obama DOJ is run by individuals who have a problem telling the truth. And it shows that we can’t trust the Obama DOJ to fairly administer our nation’s voting and election laws.
We intend to continue to push for accountability. Perez, who gave the false testimony, is a leading leftist at the DOJ who has taken the lead in the attacks on Arizona’s immigration enforcement measures; attacks on election integrity measures such as voter ID; and the shakedown of financial institutions over dubious discriminatory lending allegations. (You can go to agency’s Internet site to get the full breadth of Perez’s hard Left agenda.)
Hans von Spakovsky, a former DOJ official now with the Heritage Foundation, has been following this issue closely and writes:
Where is the investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) of whether Perez violated his ethical and professional obligations as a DOJ attorney? Will the DOJ inspector general open an investigation of the possible violation by Perez of 18 U.S.C. §1621, which outlaws presenting false statements under oath in official federal proceedings? Or will they all respectively yawn and ignore this?
Imagine if a conservative political appointee at DOJ had just been cited in a federal court decision as having apparently testified falsely under oath. Not only would it be a top headline at The New York Times and The Washington Post, but the IG and OPR would be rushing to investigate. All of which is a sad commentary on the liberal bias not just of the media, but of too many of the offices and officials within the Justice Department who are supposed to administer justice in an objective, non-political, and impartial manner.
We will follow up, of course. You should, too. Contact the Justice Department, call talk radio, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, call or visit your congressman (they’re all back “home” now for a few weeks).
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch and author of The Corruption Chronicles, on sale now.