The conservative-controlled U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Monday accused the Justice Department of “delaying and smothering” the agency’s investigation into the handling of a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party.
Late last month, commissioners subpoenaed four Justice Department staff members as part of their probe into DOJ’s handling of the voter intimidation case which stemmed from an incident in Philadelphia on Election Day in 2008. In a letter sent last week, the Justice Department agreed to allow the testimony of three Justice Department officials, so long as their testimony would be reflected in the Commission’s report.
Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Federal Programs Branch of the Justice Department, also requested that the Commission provide a copy of the report in advance of their vote so it could be reviewed for factual inaccuracies.
Today the Civil Rights Commission responded, accusing the Justice Department of avoiding responding to allegations against the Civil Rights Division and instead focusing “on delaying and smothering the Commission’s investigation.”
“It is disheartening that the Department opposes efforts to investigate such allegations and instead has devoted its resources to ‘spin control’ and attempting to create a façade of cooperation. Such efforts are neither effective nor productive,” writes General Counsel David P. Blackwood.
Blackwood also noted that the Commission’s investigation, called the 2010 Enforcement Report “has extended beyond Fiscal Year 2010, an action taken due to the Department’s lack of cooperation. The investigation has no set date of expiration,” he added.
The problem the conservative majority of the commission has is that they’re running out of time. During the Bush administration, two members of the Commission switched their affiliations from Republican to independent to stack the agency with conservatives, working around a law which limited the Commission to four members any one party.
Their final meeting before ideological balance is restored to the commission is on Dec. 3, which means they would have to schedule depositions, DOJ would have to review the transcripts of their testimony, the Commission would have to revise their report and send a draft to the Justice Department and DOJ would then have to respond before final action is taken. Throw in the Thanksgiving holiday, and there are only 13 working days until that final meeting.
If you include Republican appointed Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, there would likely be a new five member majority of the commission which oppose the direction of the 2010 enforcement report. The new majority could potentially change the conclusion of the report before a vote is taken.
The Commission has also dubbed the report they are scheduled to take up for a vote on Nov. 19 as an “interim report.” That report, which the Commission has spent at least $173,000 on so far, chalked the illegal hiring that took place during the Bush administration up to “ideological conflict.”
Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki prevented a previous vote on the report late last month when he walked out of the meeting to deny the majority their quorum.
The officials who DOJ agreed could be deposed are former acting Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Loretta King; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum.
A Justice Department spokeswoman referred TPM to the letter the Justice Department sent to the commission on Friday but offered no further comment. She had previously called the Civil Rights Committee’s investigation “thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric.”
Conservatives have been criticizing the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder because of the handling of the voter intimidation case for over a year and a half. A video shot by an individual working for the Republican Party showed an individual dressed up in a New Black Panther Party uniform holding a nightstick. A civil voter intimidation case was filed against that individual, another member who accompanied him, the chairman of the national party and the New Black Panther Party itself. Once the Obama administration took office, they decided only to pursue a case against the man holding the nightstick.
So far, the commission has heard testimony from two Justice Department lawyers — one current and one former — who both had ties to the politicization of the Civil Rights Division during the Bush administration. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who was not in charge of the Civil Rights Division when the decision was made, has also testified before the Commission.
Separately today, the Justice Department Inspector General identified the top management and performance challenges DOJ is facing this year. Inspector General Glenn Fine found that restoring confidence in DOJ was “a top management challenge after the controversy concerning the Department’s firing of U.S. Attorneys and the politicized hiring of certain career Department employees.” Fine wrote that while DOJ “has taken aggressive steps to respond to these issues,” some problems persist.
In the area of ideological hiring, which plagued the Civil Rights Division during the Bush administration, DOJ wrote:
We found that the Department had considered certain career attorneys’ political or ideological affiliations when deciding whether to approve temporary details of these attorneys to certain high-level Department positions. We recommended that the Department clarify the circumstances under which political or ideological considerations may be considered when assessing career candidates for details to various Department positions. The Department agreed with the recommendation but has not yet implemented corrective action.