Did the DoJ lie about the dismissal of voter-intimidation case?

When challenged by Congress to explain the dismissal of an already-won criminal prosecution for voter intimidation against a New Black Panther Party activist, the Department of Justice claimed that political appointees were not part of the decision-making process.  Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General under Eric Holder, made that claim under oath.  New records obtained by Judicial Watch under a FOIA request shows that Perez did not tell the truth, and that the decision to drop the case did involve political appointees:

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has forced disclosure of the existence of documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicating Democratic election lawyer Sam Hirsch was involved in the DOJ decision to dismiss its voting rights case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The records, described in a Vaughn index produced pursuant to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, contradict sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that no political leadership was involved in the decision (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 10-851)).

The “Vaughn index” describes documents responsive to the lawsuit currently being withheld in their entirety by the Justice Department. The index details a series of emails between Assistant Deputy Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, who was described by Slate magazine as a “DC election lawyer who represents a lot of Democrats” prior to joining the Justice Department.

The index describes eight email exchanges between Rosenbaum and Hirsch, taking place on April 30, 2009, the day before the Justice Department reversed course and declined to pursue much of the Black Panther case. Listed among the email correspondence:

An “Email Chain with Attachments” from Rosenbaum to Hirsch dated April 30, 2009: The email chain includes “…a detailed response and analysis of the proposed draft filings in NBPP (New Black Panther Party) litigation…The response includes a candid assessment of legal research and raises questions about the case law and proposed relief….This document also contains attorney discussion, opinions, and analyses of the draft documents and case law.”

That contradicts the testimony of Perez, who claimed that any debate within the DoJ on the decision took place between “career” staff, not political appointees:

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.

J. Christian Adams, who resigned his career position in the Civil Rights section of the DoJ to blow the whistle on politicization at Justice, notes that the documentation shows that the Deputy AG was involved in the debate, with one such e-mail’s description includes the notation that it includes his thoughts on the case:

The description of the email contains a bombshell:

“asking for update on the NBPP litigation between officials in the [Associate’s office] and noting the [deputy attorney general’s] current thoughts on the case.”

The deputy attorney general is the second highest-ranking official in the Department. The use of the term “current thoughts” infers that there were prior thoughts and ongoing discussions with the second highest-ranking political official at DOJ about how to handle the case.

Adams concludes that this goes a lot deeper than the DoJ wants to admit, and that the media have been willing to report:

Congress and the public have been told — for over a year — that the dismissal of the New Black Panther case resulted from nothing more than a dispute between lowly career civil servants. Lapdog reporters have repeated this lie, if they even covered the case at all. The documents uncovered by Judicial Watch expose the ruse.

Rarely in our nation’s history have officials in the Department of Justice engaged in a dishonest misinformation campaign to Congress, the public, and other fact-finding tribunals. Thankfully, these few episodes have been confined to the darkest and most corrupt eras of the republic.

Interestingly, it seems as though the Boss Emeritus got under their skin a bit at DoJ, as Adams explains:

Adams spotlights one interesting little nugget showing how the DOJ scrambled to react to my May 28, 2009 online exclusive that first revealed the shady dismissal of the NBPP case:

The logs show political officials Hirsch and Rosenbaum, and a press spokesperson, swinging into action as soon as the press reported the dismissal on May 28, 2009. “Response to Malkin” shows up on May 28 — they were coordinating a response to Michelle Malkin’s exclusive breaking the story of the outrageous dismissal. These communications are characterized by the log as “pre-decisional,” and therefore protected. Of course, the decision to dismiss the case had already been made. I can’t wait to see what the court does with that in the FOIA litigation. (Though I suppose the decisions about how to cover up the truth of the dismissal were in the formative, pre-decisional process.)

Remember: Sunlight — relentless sunlight — is the best disinfectant. And the ballot box is the ultimate sanitizer.

The ballot box will be helpful in 2012, but perhaps more so in 2010. Congress needs to demand answers to the evidence of perjury and obstruction of justice that Judicial Watch has unearthed. The current Congress wouldn’t dare challenge Obama and his AG, but a House run by John Boehner could at least get the ball rolling.