Top Obama DOJ Officials Involved in Decision to Drop Black Panther Case According to Evidence Obtained by Judicial Watch
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today released a draft Vaughn index prepared by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that shows that the two top political appointees at the DOJ were involved in the decision to dismiss the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP). The index, obtained pursuant to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, contradicts sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political leadership was involved in the decision.
The Vaughn index produced by the DOJ describes documents that are currently being withheld in their entirety. The index details a series of internal DOJ emails regarding the Black Panther case between the highest political appointees inside Justice, including former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and the Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli.
For example, a May 10, 2009, email from Associate Attorney General Perrelli, the third highest ranking official in the DOJ, asks Deputy Associate Attorney General and former Democratic election lawyer Sam Hirsch, “Where are we on the Black Panther case?” The email also includes Deputy Attorney General Ogden’s “current thoughts on the case.”
Another email from former Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, dated May 12, 2009, was distributed 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.”
The index produced to Judicial Watch seemingly contradicts testimony by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 14, 2010. 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, Perez was asked directly regarding the involvement of political leaders in the decision to dismiss the Black Panther case.
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.
Perez also suggested that the dispute was merely “a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”
The index describes 122 documents (totaling at least 611 pages) that the Obama Justice Department is withholding from the public in their entirety. A federal court hearing in the matter is scheduled on October 5, 2010 in Washington, DC, before U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton.
“This new evidence shows that the Obama team lied when it said politics did not influence the Black Panther dismissal,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We now know that top political leaders inside Obama Justice Department were involved in the call to drop the Black Panther case. And we also know that at least one top Justice official said otherwise under oath. In the meantime, we will ask the Court to require the Obama Justice Department to release these (and other) secret documents about this scandal and its cover-up.”
The DOJ filed its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party following an incident that took place outside of a Philadelphia polling station on November 4, 2008. A video of the incident, showing a member of the New Black Panther Party brandishing police-style baton weapon, was widely distributed on the Internet. According to multiple witnesses, members of the New Black Panthers blocked access to polling stations, harassed voters and hurled racial epithets. Nonetheless, the DOJ ultimately overruled the recommendations of its own staff and dismissed the majority of its charges.