A conservative watchdog group on Wednesday questioned the accuracy of sworn testimony given by Attorney General Eric Holder in the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation case. Questions surrounding Holder's testimony come in the wake of a recent court ruling that also calls into question the veracity of sworn testimony from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez regarding the Justice Department's decision to drop its voter intimidation lawsuit against the group.
Documents recently obtained by Judicial Watch indicate that top political appointees at the DOJ were closely involved in the decision to dismiss the NBPP lawsuit, which multiple DOJ officials, including Holder, have denied in their sworn testimony. The group claims that the records, which include internal DOJ email correspondence, "directly contradict testimony by Perez, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political leadership was involved in the decision."
Judicial Watch secured the documents pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit: Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice.
The DOJ initially refused to turn over the documents, arguing they didn't show "any political interference whatsoever." However, a federal judge disagreed with their assertion and in a July 23, 2012 ruling, Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington, D.C. District Court ruled:
The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision. Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials’ representations regarding the possible politicization of agency decisionmaking.
The DOJ filed its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party following an incident that occurred outside a polling station in Philadelphia in November of 2008. Former President George W. Bush was still in office. According to video and multiple witnesses, members of NBPP stood in front of the entrance of the polling station, one holding a club, and intimidated voters by using racial epithets and questioning people of their voting intentions.
Going against the recommendation of its own advisers, the Obama DOJ dismissed the majority of charges. According to Judicial Watch, 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."
And now the testimony the attorney general himself is being called into question for seemingly misleading testimony. On March 1, 2011, Holder testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies and said:
"The decisions made in the New Black Panther Party case were made by career attorneys in the department. And beyond that, you know, if we’re going to look at the record, let’s look at it in its totality."
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the DOJ after reviewing documents that included email correspondence between two political appointees: former Democratic election lawyer and current Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch and Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli.
The subject of the email? "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.
Further, according to Judicial Watch, there are still documents that describe the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case that the Obama administration continues to withhold. These documents allegedly include a description of a May 13 "email chain" that shows involvement of political appointees in the NBPP decision.
Taken directly from the DOJ's Motion for Summary Judgment filing:
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]
More form Judicial Watch:
In fact, political appointee Sam Hirsch sent an April 30, 2009, e-mail 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.
Regarding the Attorney General’s knowledge of the NBPP decision, Judicial Watch also obtained two e-mail reports sent by former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Loretta King to Holder.
The first report, entitled “Weekly Report for the Week ending May 8, 2009,” was 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 NBPP “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,” was 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 becoming increasingly clear that the leadership of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Holder, has a problem with truth. There needs to be an independent investigation into whether Messrs. Holder and Perez committed perjury in testifying under oath about the Black Panther controversy," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
Read the entire report from Judicial Watch and related court documents here.
Watch the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation incident below: