This post has a clarification.
The Justice Department will not allow key officials involved with the controversial voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, protesting the commission’s terms for the depositions, Talking Points Memo reported Tuesday.
Director Joseph Hunt of the DOJ Federal Programs Branch wrote in a letter Monday to commission general counsel David P. Blackwood that the DOJ would not allow testimony from Civil Rights Division staffers after the commission refused to submit to DOJ conditions.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights subpoenaed former acting Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, in addition to division officials Julie Fernandes and Steve Rosenbaum, as part of its investigation into the DOJ’s decision to dismiss most charges against members of the anti-white fringe group. Two members of the group wore military clothing as they stood outside a polling place in a black Philadelphia neighborhood in November 2008.
Hunt wrote in a Nov. 12 letter to Hunt that the department would allow the officials to testify before the commission if the panel would use the DOJ staffers’ testimony to complete its report on the handling of the case and allow the department to review transcripts of the testimony. But the commission cried foul on Monday.
Blackwood said the DOJ is “delaying and smothering” the body’s probe with its conditions.
“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,” Blackwood wrote Monday in a letter to Hunt. “Such efforts are neither effective nor productive.”
Former DOJ staffer J. Christian Adams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Civil Rights Division Voting Section, previously testified about aversion in the DOJ to launching voting rights prosecutions against minorities. The DOJ instructed Adams and Coates not to go before the commission.
The panel also subpoenaed Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch. But Hunt said in a Nov. 12 letter to the commission that the DOJ will not allow him to testify because he likely has nothing new to disclose beyond confidential DOJ communications.
The commission has spent more than $170,000 investigating the DOJ’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case. Republicans have praised the panel’s probe, sharing several commissioners’ concerns about the DOJ’s decisions in the case.
Earlier this month, the commission tried to vote on a draft report on its investigation. The document alleges the DOJ did not fully cooperate with the probe.
Democratic Commissioner Michael Yaki, who would have made quorum, left the meeting room in protest before the panel could vote on the report. The commission is now slated to vote Friday on the document.
Clarification: an earlier version of this article said the Justice Department had “reversed its decision.” The Justice Department offered to let the staffers testify if the commission agreed to certain conditions, and therefore Hunt’s letter does not represent a reversal of the DOJ’s position.