A Republican member of Congress on Tuesday asked the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Office to look into allegations that DOJ officials consulted with the White House before deciding to dismiss voter intimidation charges last May against members of the New Black Panther Party.
In a letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine, Virginia Rep. Frank R. Wolf cited reports in The Washington Times that suggested Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli visited the White House last spring on several dates that match up with developments in the case.
“I am deeply concerned about allegations that Associate Attorney General Perrelli consulted with the White House counsel’s office in his decision to dismiss this case,” Wolf wrote. “The Washington Times has reported a series of meetings between Mr. Perrelli and the deputy White House counsel corresponding to key dates in the decision to dismiss this case.”
“The pace of these visits immediately slowed following the final dismissal of the case,” Wolf continued. “If true, this represents a dangerous breakdown of the “firewall” policy that former Attorney General Mukasey put in place in 2007 to prevent politicization on active cases.”
Last year, Wolf asked the inspector general’s office to look into the matter, in which the DOJ dismissed most of a case against members of the militant anti-white fringe group, two of whose members stood outside a polling place in Philadelphia in November 2008 in quasi-military garb, one of them holding a nightstick.
Fine instead referred the case to the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility. That investigation is still ongoing. The Justice Department has said there was no evidence of a coordinated voter intimidation campaign and that federal intervention wasn’t warranted. The government did win an injunction against the nightstick-wielding Black Panther.
The allegations in Wolf’s letter mirror those made by a former Bush Justice Department official, Hans von Spakovsky, that the meetings offer ”strong circumstantial evidence” that the White House was involved in the decision to dismiss the charges.
Spakovsky, writing for National Review Online last week, plucked out Perrelli’s appointments in the White House logs and matched them up with the dates of relevant actions in the New Black Panther litigation. The Washington Times wrote a similar piece the same day and later cited von Spakovsky’s piece as “confirmation” that its analysis was correct.
“All of this is circumstantial evidence, of course,” von Spakovsky wrote. “Perhaps all of Perrelli’s meetings had nothing to do with the NBPP case; perhaps Perrelli and the White House officials were discussing the latest Washington Redskins loss. Or perhaps not.”
But the No. 3 Justice could have have discussed any number of issues with the White House during the meetings last April and May such as tribal justice, the on-going negotiations related to the class-action Cobell v. Salazar settlement, making stimulus funds available to Indian County’s criminal justice needs, his trip with other cabinet officials to hard hit “auto communities,” or his testimony before a Senate committee on May 12.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Von Spakovsky’s piece or say what topics Perrelli covered in the White House meetings.
“We don’t respond to conspiracy theories from Hans von Spakovsky,” Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told Main Justice.
Liberal news watch organization Media Matters blasted The Washington Times piece, saying the “editorial relied on falsehoods and distortions.”
The “editorial and accompanying timeline did not contain any reporting that Perrelli discussed the case with White House personnel in the meetings he had at the White House,” Media Matters wrote in an analysis. “Indeed, the Times acknowledged that one-third of the meetings Perrelli had at the White House occurred after the case was resolved.”
Von Spakovsky was a controversial figure in the Justice Department, where he served as a counselor to the assistant attorney general for civil rights from 2003 to 2005. While at the department, von Spakovsky advocated for a Georgia voter identification law that Democratic critics claimed made it harder for low-income and elderly citizens to vote. Then-Sen. Barack Obama was one such critic, writing is 2007 that von Spakovsky made “efforts to undermine voting rights” and had a “record of poor management, divisiveness, and inappropriate partisanship” at the Justice Department.
According to a 2008 Inspector General’s report, von Spakovsky and former DOJ officials John Tanner and Bradley Schlozman took political affiliations into account when reviewing résumés, making recommendations for applicants to be interviewed and conducting interviews for positions at the department. The report concluded that Schlozman violated federal law and that “division managers failed to exercise sufficient oversight to ensure that Schlozman did not engage in inappropriate hiring and personnel practices.” Because of von Spakovsky’s controversial tenure at the Justice Department, Democratic senators later refused to confirm him to a position on the Federal Election Commission.
In addition to the IG letter, Wolf last week penned a missive to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to request time to speak at its Feb. 12 hearing about the New Black Panthers controversy.
Todd Gaziano, a commissioner at the the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who is spearheading the hearing on the Black Panther case, is a frequent collaborator with von Spakovsky, both as a co-author of pieces for National Review Online and as a colleague at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Gaziano hired von Spakovsky as a short term consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the summer of 2008. Last August, von Spakovsky was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ State Advisory Committee for Virginia, where he resides.
At last Friday’s meeting of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, four of the Republican appointed members voted to go into executive session to discuss the case. Abigail Thernstrom abstained and two Democratically appointed members voted against going into the closed session.