A new lawsuit has been filed by Judicial Watch, the Washington watchdog organization, seeking documents that may reveal possible White House political influence over the decision to abandon large portions of the 2008 New Black Panther voter intimidation case.
The move comes on the heels of revelations that a longtime Democrat operative was involved in a series of e-mail exchanges with the Department of Justice at the time the decision to drop most of the case was being made.
A summary of e-mails obtained under an formal information request revealed that Democratic election-lawyer Sam Hirsch was involved in the DOJ decision to dismiss the voter intimidation counts against several New Black Panther Party members.
The revelation appeared to contradict the earlier Department of Justice testimony that such connections to political figures were not a part of the case.
Now Judicial Watch is demanding, through the Freedom of Information Act, all records “related to meetings between Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli and White House officials regarding DOJ’s decision to dismiss its voter intimidation case.”
The action seeks:
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.
The case developed following complaints about the behavior documented in a video of New Black Panther Party members at a Philadelphia polling station during the 2008 election.
The Department of Justice originally filed a lawsuit against the party and its members over the Nov. 4, 2008, incident. The video reveals a member of the New Black Panther Party brandishing a police-style baton weapon. According to multiple witnesses, members of the New Black Panthers blocked access to polling stations, harassed voters and hurled racial epithets.
When the defendants refused to answer the charges, the case essentially was won by the government, with only the penalty portion of the adjudication left the resolve. However, after President Obama was inaugurated, his chosen department leaders suddenly abandoned the case, against the recommendation of their own staff members, and dismissed the majority of the charges.
Judicial Watch, then, sought details of what had prompted the sudden course reversal.
It was on March 26 when the DOJ informed Judicial Watch that it had conducted a search for documents but found “no records responsive to your request.” Judicial Watch then appealed, 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.”
Eventually, as part of its questions over the alleged involvement of Perrelli and other top political appointees in the decision to dismiss the charges, despite sworn testimony from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, Judicial Watch obtained from the federal department a draft “Vaughn” index revealing some of those links.
The index, a privilege log, describes documents that continue to be withheld. It details 122 documents, including more than 600 pages that remain withheld. The documents are to be discussed at a court hearing scheduled Oct. 5 before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington.
But Judicial Watch believes there are more questions that need to be answered.
“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,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton today. “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.”
Fitton earlier said Perez “seems to have been less than candid in his sworn testimony when he said no political appointees were involved in the decision [to drop charges against the New Black Panther Party members].”
But the Vaughn index material confirms the existence of a series of e-mails between Assistant Deputy Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, who, according to Judicial Watch, “was described by ‘Slate’ magazine as a ‘DC election lawyer who represents a lot of Democrats.'”
The revelations included:
An “E-mail Chain with Attachments” from Rosenbaum to Hirsch dated April 30, 2009: The e-mail 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.”
Perez had told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 14, 2010, that there was no such participation.
According to Judicial Watch, the exchange went:
Commissioner Kirsanow: Was there any political leadership involved in the decision not to pursue this particular case any further than it was?
Assistant Attorney General Perez: The decisions were made by Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum, who is the acting deputy assistant attorney general.
But Judicial Watch said, for example, a May 10, 2009, e-mail from Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, the third highest ranking official in the DOJ, asks “Deputy Associate Attorney General and former Democratic election lawyer Sam Hirsch,” “Where are we on the Black Panther Case?”
It includes Ogden’s “current thoughts on the case.”
Judicial Watch reported, “Another e-mail from former Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, dated May 12, 2009, was distributed to Attorney General Eric Holder through Odgen and Perrelli. Entitled, ‘Weekly Report for the Week ending May 8, 2009,’ the e-mail ‘Identifies matters deemed significant and highlights issues for the senior offices, including an update on a planned course of action in the NBPP (New Black Panther Party) litigation.'”
Fitton said what is known is that “top political leaders inside Obama Justice Department were involved in the call to drop the Black Panther case.” And he said “at least one top Justice official said otherwise under oath.”
According to a commentary by Mark Tapscott at the Washington Examiner, J. Christian Adams, who was a DOJ attorney but resigned to protest the New Black Panther Party decision, said Hirsch “is a former Democratic Party operative, and one of the most partisan election law attorneys in the entire nation.”
Adams told the Examiner Hirsch worked for the Democrats in redistricting fights and was “heavily involved in the Obama campaign.”
As WND reported at the time, one poll watcher called police on Nov. 4, 2008, after he reportedly saw Minister King Samir Shabazz (aka Maurice Heath) brandishing a nightstick to threaten voters just 15 feet outside a Philadelphia polling location.
Career Department of Justice attorneys headed by voting-section chief Chris Coates filed a case under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 against four defendants, accused the men of attempting to engage in, and engaging in, both voter intimidation and intimidation of individuals aiding voters.
The original Department of Justice complaint named Shabazz, the party and several others.
A federal judge ordered default judgments against the New Black Panthers after party members refused to appear in court. The DOJ trial team had won its case.
Even though DOJ lawyers had won, the Obama administration suddenly ordered it dropped – against advice of prosecutors who brought the case.
In April, the New Black Panther Party released a statement blaming Republicans “tea-party racists” and “right-wing circles” for complaining and harassing the organization.
“Our only connection to President Obama is the common color of our skin,” it states. “The same dog that bites President Obama bites us too. So I say, if you were wise, you would leave Obama alone as well because he is your last chance to save your country. You are mad because a black man has been elected to the presidency, and that affronts your oversized ego.”