Explosive Justice Department Emails Offer New Evidence Political Appointees at DOJ Ended Case against New Black Panther Party
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) that provide new evidence that top political appointees at the DOJ were intimately involved in the decision to dismiss the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP). These new documents, which include internal DOJ email correspondence, directly contradict 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 new documents were obtained last week by Judicial Watch pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No.10-851)).
The new documents include a series of emails between two political appointees: former Democratic election lawyer and current Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli. Both DOJ officials were involved in detailed discussions regarding the NBPP decision. For example, in one April 30, 2009, email from Hirsch to Perrelli, with the subject title “Fw: New Black Panther Party Update,” Hirsch writes:
I need to discuss this with you tomorrow morning. I’ll send you another email on this shortly.
If you want to discuss it this evening, please let me know which number to call and when.
These emails were put in further context by an updated Vaughn index obtained by Judicial Watch, describing NBPP documents the Obama DOJ continues to withhold. These documents, which were attached to the DOJ’s Motion for Summary Judgment filing, include a description of a May 13 email chain that seems to suggest political appointee Sam Hirsch may have been orchestrating the NBPP decision.
Acting DAAG [Steven Rosenbaum] advising his supervising Acting AAG [Loretta King] of DASG’s [Hirsch’s] request for a memorandum by the Acting DAAG reviewing various options, legal strategies, and different proposals of relief as related to each separate defendant. Acting DAAG forwarding emails from Appellate Section Chief’s and Appellate Attorney’s with their detailed legal analyses including the application of constitutional provisions and judicial precedent to strategies and relief under consideration in the ongoing NBPP litigation, as well as an assessment of the strength of potential legal arguments, and presenting different possible scenarios in the litigation. [Emphasis added]
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political appointees were involved in the NBPP decision. Perez suggested that the dispute was merely “a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”
In fact, political appointee Sam Hirsch sent an April 30, 2009, email to Steven Rosenbaum (then-Acting Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights in charge of voting rights) thanking Rosenbaum for “doing everything you’re doing to make sure that this case is properly resolved.” The next day, the DOJ began to reverse course on its NBPP voter intimidation lawsuit.
Judicial Watch also obtained two email reports sent by former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Loretta King to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The first report, entitled “Weekly Report for the Week ending May 8, 2009,” and sent on May 12, 2009, notes: “On May 15, 2009, pursuant to court order, the Department will file a motion for default judgment against at least some of the defendants” in the NBPP lawsuit. The report further notes that the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense “has been identified as a racist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the founders and members of the original Black Panther Party.”
The second report, entitled “Weekly Report for the Week ending May 15, 2009,” and sent on May 18, 2009, demonstrates that the DOJ did an abrupt reversal on the NBPP issue: “On May 15, 2009, the Department voluntarily dismissed its claims” against the NBPP and two of the defendants, the report noted. The DOJ moved for default judgment against only one defendant.
“It is now obvious to me why the Obama administration continues to be so secretive regarding the Justice Department’s decision to abandon its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party. These documents show that not only was the Black Panther decision shamelessly politicized by the Obama administration but also that Obama officials lied to cover up the scandal. And these documents raise more questions about Attorney General Holder’s involvement. The American people need to know if racism and political favoritism are corrupting the nation’s highest law enforcement agency,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
The DOJ filed its lawsuit against the NBPP 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 NBPP brandishing police-style baton weapon, was widely distributed on the Internet. According to multiple witnesses, members of the NBPP 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. Current and former DOJ attorneys have alleged in sworn testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that the Holder DOJ’s NBPP and other civil rights-related decisions are made on the basis of race and political affiliation.