DECEMBER 18, 2009
The Justice Department has ordered government lawyers who filed a complaint against the New Black Panther Party for intimidating voters in last year’s presidential election not to cooperate with a nonpartisan civil rights commission investigating how the Obama Administration handled the case.
Federal prosecutors filed a civil complaint in Philadelphia against members of the radical black revolutionary group for bullying voters with racial insults, profanity and weapons. Clad in military attire, the Black Panther thugs were captured on video in front of precincts during the 2008 presidential election.
But the case was abruptly killed by a top Justice Department official just as a federal judge was preparing to punish the Black Panthers for ignoring the charges and refusing to appear in court. The order came from Loretta King, who at the time was President Obama’s acting assistant Attorney General for the civil rights division. No explanation was offered for the sudden dismissal and outrage ensued among federal prosecutors handling the case.
Now the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a fact-finding nonpartisan agency with subpoena power to investigate discrimination complaints—including allegations that citizens are deprived of their right to vote—is digging into the matter. The panel, which has eight commissioners—four appointed by the president and the rest appointed by Congress—then submits reports, findings and recommendations to the White House and legislature.
Last week the commission subpoenaed at least two Justice Department lawyers involved in the Black Panther case and sought documents from the agency to explain why the complaint was dropped, according to a news report published this week. A top Justice Department official ordered the government attorneys’ silence in a letter that said “well-established” and “lawful” Justice Department guidelines prohibit cooperation in the commission probe.
The letter further trashes the Civil Rights Commission and diminishes its mission by saying that it “possesses no authority to initiate criminal prosecution of anyone” and does not have the authority to enforce subpoenas. The commission only has the ability to make referrals and recommendations to the Justice Department, the directive says.
A member of the Civil Rights Commission challenged the gag order, pointing out that his panel is duly authorized by statute to review and report on enforcement activities of the Justice Department and similar government agencies. The commission’s job, he reminds, is to serve as a watchdog of federal and state enforcement agencies. That is why Congress has instructed all agencies to comply fully with the commission’s request, he said.
The Civil Rights Commission launched the probe, which could include public hearings in Washington and Philadelphia, to reveal whether the decision to drop the charges against the Black Panthers constituted a departure from prior enforcement policy. It also wants to determine if the Justice Department’s actions might lead to more illegal voter intimidation in future elections.
The Obama Administration clearly doesn’t want the details of this heated case and apparent coverup to be made public. Otherwise, it would allow federal prosecutors to cooperate fully with the Civil Rights Commission’s investigation. Yet another promise of unprecedented transparency has been broken by the commander-in-chief.
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