— with research by Anath Hartmann
U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that Mr. Holder re-file “criminal” charges against the now-infamous New Black Panthers involved in a 2008 voter-intimidation incident in Philadelphia:
” It appears that a decision was made in May 2009 to not use the full force of the law with regard to those members of the New Black Panther party who engaged in racist and wrongful behavior at a Philadelphia polling place. It is my understanding that certain civil charges have been downgraded for the main perpetrator and dropped for the other individuals involved. I urge you to review the matter and pursue the criminal case that your department did not originally pursue.”
(Actually, no criminal case ever was even preliminarily filed, but that’s another matter.) Rep. Sherman also wrote, in his July 19 letter, that he “would urge [the Justice] department to give higher priority and robust attention toward those cases of voter fraud and voter intimidation which are still within the relevant statute of limitations.”
The Sherman letter appears to be the first time that a congressional Democrat has demanded prosecution of the Black Panthers involved in the case. On those grounds alone, it could be a significant break in the dam that Democrats so far have provided DoJ against a flood of inquiries about the matter.
Rep. Sherman, of course, is the congressman whose town meeting a few weeks ago erupted in anger when he claimed to be utterly unfamiliar with the Black Panther case. This letter would appear to be a response to that incident. The congressman’s point, however, was not merely to acknowledge the seriousness of the Black Panther case. Instead, it was a clear attempt to turn the tables and blast the Bush administration. Yes, the Bush administration, which he accused of “flagrantly ignor[ing] its constitutional responsibilities in white washing [sic] cases involving voter intimidation.” He demanded renewed investigation into six Bush-era voting mini-controversies.
There appears to be a big problem with his list, however. It appears the congressman didn’t do his research. For example, one of the six cases he said should not have been dropped — indeed, one whose dropping he called a “flagrant” example of “ignor[ing]… constitutional responsibilities” — involved a bizarre flier that appeared around Hampton Roads, VA that advised Democrats not to vote on Election Day, but instead on the day afterwards. The problem with Rep. Sherman’s complaint is that the whole kerfuffle has already been shown to be much ado about nothing. In fact, the outfit that actually spread the document was none other than… the Obama campaign. News reports covered the situation in detail.
The truth is that the flier was a joke, and always understood as a joke, that one man showed his co-workers but did not otherwise distribute. The Virginia Pilot reported:
State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller explained the incident in more detail. Here’s what happened:
An unidentified Hampton Roads man who created the flier showed it to a few co-workers, one of whom alerted officials at an Obama campaign office in Hampton Roads.
The document was forwarded to a campaign attorney, who contacted state election officials about the flier and also scanned it into a computer as an electronic file to share with other campaign staff.
State election officials, in turn, contacted State Police to investigate the situation.
Around the same time, the flier began making the rounds, going viral in the online community.
When word of the flier broke early last week, state officials said the document had “circulated” in several Hampton Roads localities, including Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
That characterization, Geller now says, was not entirely accurate.
“It was in no way physically circulating,” she said. “The way it circulated by the Internet was via one of the campaign’s attorneys who scanned it and forwarded it to some folks. That’s how it circulated.”
Virginia officials, for obvious reasons, did not press charges against the jokester, who never intended the flier actually to be shown to any voters or to mislead anybody. Nor, of course, did the press charges against the Obama attorneys who actually “distributed” it in the course of looking into whether it actually was a plot to mislead voters (which it wasn’t).
Failure to use the Justice Department to file charges in that case hardly qualifies as a “flagrant” abandonment of constitutional duty.
As for the other five matters listed by Rep. Sherman, I am told the allegations are almost equally as thin as the Hampton Roads case. I am reliably told — and several sources formerly involved in civil rights matters at DoJ say their second-hand memory of the cases tracks the report I am getting — that none of the cases turned out to be legitimate enough examples of voter intimidation or fraud for the career attorneys involved to even bother filing what is known as a “J Memo” on them. The “J” stands for “Justification.” A J Memo is a rather preliminary step in the investigative process, advising superiors about whether or not any laws actually appear to have been violated. Absence of a J Memo is a sign that even the career “line attorneys” — some of whom were decidedly to the left, even during the Bush administration — found so little real substance to the allegations that they required no more inquiry.
(NOTE: I am still trying to find somebody with absolutely definitive knowledge about whether J Memos were written on these cases, but due diligence so far makes me quite confident the information above is correct. Two hours ago I e-mailed DoJ spokesman Tracy Schmaler a “yes or no” question on the matter, but have not heard back. If and when I do, I will post an update here.)
For one example of why no J Memo would have been written, consider the Arizona case cited by Rep. Sherman involving an anti-immigration Minuteman allegedly packing heat near a polling place. This case received widespread attention when it occurred. But no charges were filed— this is what I’m told, which matches my memory; I will update this report if I find out otherwise — because A) the man involved had a permit to carry his weapon; B) he reportedly never came within 150 feet of the polls; C) he never directly interacted with would-be voters and D) he never brandished his weapon, which remained holstered the whole time. Again, look here at the Water Cooler for any updates on this case from Pima, Arizona.
If these six cases cited by Rep. Sherman were not even serious enough to pass preliminary review by line attorneys, they hardly rise to the level of the Black Panther case, which already was effectively WON by DoJ before the Obama appointees stepped in at the last minute and pulled the plug on the case. Forget apples and oranges; the Panther case is the size of a pumpkin whereas the other cases were sickly plants that bore no fruit at all.