Watchdog Group Raises Questions About Veracity of Holder Testimony on New Black Panther Party Scandal
Court Ruling Puts New Focus On Voter Intimidation Scandal(
Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today raised questions today about the testimony of Attorney General Eric Holder in the wake of a federal court ruling that cast doubt on the accuracy of sworn testimony provided by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez regarding the Department of Justice (DOJ) decision to abandon its voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense (NBPP).
Judicial Watch uncovered information that top political appointees at the DOJ were intimately involved in the decision to dismiss the NBPP lawsuit. These documents, which include internal DOJ e-mail correspondence, directly contradict sworn testimony by Perez, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that no political leadership was involved in the decision. The documents were obtained by Judicial Watch pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No.10-851)).
Despite the revelatory documents, the DOJ continued to insist that the documents did not make “any political interference whatsoever.” A federal court judge disagreed. In a July 23 ruling by Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in response to Judicial Watch’s effort to obtain attorneys’ fees from the DOJ for stonewalling the release of documents pertaining to the NBPP scandal, Judge Walton 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 court’s conclusions also call into question the veracity of Attorney General Eric Holder’s testimony on the controversy. On March 1, 2011, Holder testified to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (see page 66 – 2:49:00):
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 court received documents that included a series of e-mails 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, e-mail 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 e-mails were put into further context by an updated Vaughn index obtained by Judicial Watch, describing NBPP documents that 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 e-mail 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]
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.
The DOJ filed its lawsuit against the NBPP following an incident that took place outside of a Philadelphia polling station on November 4, 2008. 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.
“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. We are pleased that a court has already seen through the false narrative presented to it by the Justice Department. We can’t have our nation’s top law enforcement officers playing fast and loose with the truth,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.