Judicial Watch Sues DOJ for Documents Detailing White House Involvement in Black Panther Case Dismissal
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today announced that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (CV 10-0160)) against the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain records related to meetings between Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli and White House officials regarding DOJ’s decision to dismiss its voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP). Judicial Watch seeks the following documents through its FOIA request sent on January 19, 2010:
“Any and all records of Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli concerning meetings with the White House on the Justice Department’s voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. The time frame for this request is from January 20, 2009 to June 15, 2009.”
On March 26, 2010, the DOJ informed Judicial Watch that it had conducted a search for documents, but found “no records responsive to your request.” Judicial Watch appealed the decision on March 31, 2010, based on “various media accounts in which it was reported that Associate Attorney General Perrelli visited the White House on nine occasions between March 25, 2009, and May 27, 2009, to discuss Defendant’s voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party.”
The DOJ was required to make a determination on Judicial Watch’s appeal within 20 working days, or by May 3, 2010. To date, no such determination has been made.
On September 20, Judicial Watch released a draft Vaughn index from the DOJ pursuant to a separate lawsuit indicating that Perrelli and other top political appointees were involved in the decision to dismiss the Black Panther case despite sworn testimony of Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, to the contrary.
The Vaughn index (privilege log) produced to Judicial Watch describes documents that continue to be withheld by the Justice Department. The index details 122 documents (totaling at least 611 pages) that the Obama DOJ 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.
“Why should anyone believe the Justice Department’s story regarding these records? We now know Justice officials falsely stated that no political appointees were involved in the Black Panther decision. The Justice Department continues to withhold hundreds of pages of records that could shed light on this scandal. And despite multiple press reports documenting Perrelli’s White House meetings, the Justice Department cannot find a single record related to these meetings. We’re tired of getting the run-around and that’s why we sued,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
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.