The politicized Justice Department

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 13, 2009

It was a common refrain during the Bush (43) administration’s second term that he had politicized the Justice Department. The main evidence to back up this charge was the perfectly legal firing of a handful of U.S. Attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the president.

The media breathlessly wrote story after story, based on nothing more than wild speculation, about how the firings were an effort to protect one Republican congressman or another from some corruption investigation. Here in San Diego, the firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was big news. Some claimed that her firing was in response to her prosecution of disgraced GOP congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Hardly – no one wanted Cunningham gone more after his corruption was revealed than Republicans. Some suggested that Lam was fired because she was looking into corruption charges against Rep. Jerry Lewis of Los Angeles – the only problem with that theory was that San Diego and Los Angeles have different U.S. Attorneys.

So, it becomes somewhat surprising that a media so sensitive to charges of corrupt deals would be so completely uninterested in two cases that have a heck of a lot more substance to them then the varied imaginings targeted at the prior administration.

The first is a case I’ve mentioned before – the nightstick wielding New Black Panther Party “security” team outside a Philadelphia polling place. Now comes word that the Obama Justice Department is stonewalling the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their investigation into the dropping of charges against the pro-Obama voter-intimidating thugs.

In June, the Commission sent a letter of inquiry to the Justice Department demanding an explanation for the dismissal of the case against all but one defendant. In August, the Commission sent a second letter directly to  Attorney General Eric Holder reiterating its demand for information on the reasons for the dismissal and advising Holder of its intention to use the Commission’s statutory authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. It also renewed its demand for records of past DOJ investigations so it could make an independent determination as to whether the New Black Panther case’s dismissal was an abrupt change in Justice Department policy, and if so, what the impact of that policy change might be on future acts of voter intimidation. However, the “most transparent administration” in history (it tells us) did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter for weeks.

Last week, the Commission’s General Counsel contacted the Justice Department to inquire if a response would be forthcoming and to advise the Justice Department that on Friday the Commission would meet to decide an issue left open at its meeting last month, namely whether to designate its already expanding investigation into the New Black Panther case as an issue for a year-long study and special report. (By statute the Commission must complete at least one such study and report each year on a matter of federal civil rights enforcement.) Later that day the Justice Department sent a one paragraph letter to the Commission advising that an OPR investigation would be opened and “accordingly” no answer would be forthcoming until OPR concluded its investigation.

A source familiar with the Commission’s deliberations tells Pajamas Media that a number of the commissioners were aghast by the response. An OPR investigation is, of course, no basis for declining to co-operate with the Commission in its statutorily authorized obligation to investigate enforcement of civil rights laws. Moreover, during the Bush administration many controversial issues were the subject of investigation and litigation on multiple “tracks” (e.g., the firing of nine U.S. attorneys triggered both congressional inquiries and an inspector general’s report, investigations of embattled former Voting Rights Section chief Jack Tanner were conducted by both Congress and OPR).

Moreover, the Commission’s concerns, including whether the dismissal marks a deviation from past policy and whether the underlying case did concern a serious civil rights violation, are beyond the ordinary purview of OPR. OPR, in contrast to the Commission, will examine the narrower issue of whether politics or other improper considerations played any role in overriding the decision of the career attorneys who opposed the dismissal.

Read the whole thing.

Last week another case of a prominent Obama supporter getting special treatment came to light. A federal judge went so far as to issue a 12-page rebuke [PDF format] to the Justice Department for dismissing a case against a political ally: blogger and columnist Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic magazine.

In the Court's view, in seeking leave to dismiss the charge against Mr. Sullivan, the United States Attorney is not being faithful to a cardinal principle of our legal system, i.e., that all persons stand equal before the law and are to be treated equally in a court of justice once judicial processes are invoked. It is quite apparent that Mr. Sullivan is being treated differently from others who have been charged with the same crime in similar circumstances. ...

In short, the Court sees no legitimate reason why Mr. Sullivan should be treated differently, or why the Violation Notice issued to him should be dismissed. The only reasons given for the dismissal flout the bedrock principle of our legal system that all persons stand equal before the law.

The mainstream media isn’t interested in either of these cases, so you can expect the trend to continue.


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