The Justice Department balked at Mr. Coates‘ testimony and the commission’s investigation, noting that at least one Republican member of the commission, Abigail Thernstrom, had acknowledged that the inquiry was “thin on facts and evidence and thick on rhetoric.”
Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler also drew attention to the context in which the allegations were made, saying the “politicization that occurred in the Civil Rights Division in the previous administration has been well documented by the inspector general, and it was a disgrace to the great history of the division.
“We have reinvigorated the Civil Rights Division and ensured that it is actively enforcing the American people’s civil rights, and it is clear that not everyone supports that,” she said. “We are committed to enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, and we are going to continue to do so without respect to politics.”
Mr. Coates currently works as an assistant U.S. Attorney in South Carolina, taking the assignment after it became clear that Justice Department officials were stripping him of his authority and he could not effectively do his job as chief of the voting rights section.
In its report, adopted in a 5-2 vote during a meeting in November but not make it public, the commission said it became interested in the New Black Panther case because of the “notoriety of the incident and the unusual dismissal of uncontested claims.” It said the commission then sent letters to Justice asking it to explain the basis for its actions, but the department was “largely unresponsive.”
“What was not anticipated was the extent of the department’s lack of cooperation,” the report said. “At various times the department alleged it would provide no information because the matter was being reviewed by its Office of Professional Responsibility. At other times, the Department raised a wide variety of legal privileges, many of which seemed to have no relevance to the current investigation.”
Although the department eventually began to provide some information, including 4,000 pages of documents, the report said much of the information provided either did not relate to the New Black Panther Party litigation, involved matters that were already public, or involved prior voter intimidation lawsuits. The report said the information did not address the core of the commission’s inquiry as to why the NBPP lawsuit had been challenged internally.