The former career Civil Rights Division lawyer who quit the Justice Department after he was denied permission to testify about his work on a controversial voter intimidation case intends to cooperate with a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights probe, Main Justice has learned.
But it remains unclear what information J. Christian Adams, who left the Justice Department last week, will be allowed to give in response to a commission subpoena, his lawyer acknowledged.
“Absent some other resolution, Mr. Adams wants to relieve any obligation he has under the subpoena and provide whatever information he can, to the extent he is able,” Adams’s lawyer, Richard Bolen, wrote to the commission in an e-mail Friday.
Bolen told Main Justice that he hoped to talk with the Justice Department about what Adams can discuss. Even after leaving federal employment, there are restrictions on what Adams is allowed to say.
“He felt there was no way he could comply with all the demands on him,” Bolen said, referring to the conflict over the subpoena. “Something had to give, and it was his employment.”
Adams, who has a history of conservative advocacy, was hired as a Voting Section lawyer during the George W. Bush administration under a process later found to have been improperly politicized.
He was the lead attorney on a voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party, a fringe organization that has been characterized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-white rhetoric.
Two New Black Panther Party members stood outside a polling in Philadelphia on election day in 2008 wearing military-style garb, one of them holding a nightstick.
Although no voters in the majority-black precinct complained about the New Black Panthers, Republican poll watchers did. Adams filed a voter intimidation lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. in the final days of the Bush administration. The Obama Justice Department dropped most of the case last year, but obtained an injunction against the man who held the nightstick. DOJ said the case against the remaining defendants was unsustainable.
But Republican members of Congress objected, and the conservative-dominated Civil Rights Commission opened an investigation.
The commission subpoenaed Adams to testify about the circumstances of the dismissal. The Justice Department did not allow him to do so, citing a policy that prohibits career line attorneys from testifying before committees or revealing internal DOJ work product.
In his letter of resignation from the DOJ, Adams cited the department’s handling of the voter intimidation case and subsequent investigation by the commission. Bolen added that Adams is considering opening his own private practice.
Adams is also represented by Jim Miles, another lawyer from South Carolina.
Bolen said he did not know whether Adams will testify publicly or privately in front of the commission.
Last month, the conservative-controlled commission heard testimony about the case from Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez. The commission is focusing its 2010 enforcement report on the New Black Panther Party case.
Adams was hired in 2005 by then-Civil Rights Division political appointee Bradley Schlozman. A joint investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility found that Schlozman violated civil service rules by improperly taking political and ideological affiliations into account when making career attorney hires.
Before joining the Civil Rights Division, Adams volunteered with the National Republican Lawyers Association and worked as a GOP poll watcher in Florida. He also wrote a piece for The American Spectator that likened President Barack Obama’s world view to that of Nazi appeasers and argued on a conservative blogging network that health care reform is a threat to liberty.
Christopher Coates, the former head of the Voting Section who is now stationed in South Carolina, wrote a letter praising Adams which was read at his going away party two weeks ago, acccording to Hans von Spakovsky, another Bush-era Civil Rights Division employee who, along with Schlozman, was accused by Democrats of purging perceived liberals from the division in violation of civil service rules.
Adams declined to comment on his cooperation with the commission. A Justice Department spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.