The Obama administration's controversial abandonment of a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party is bordering on sinister. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should appoint a thoroughly independent special counsel to look into the Black Panther case immediately.
It was bad enough that the Justice Department flagrantly stonewalled an investigation of the matter by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which soon will reschedule its weather-delayed first formal hearing on the subject. Now we learn from the "Main Justice" Web site that the person assigned by the department to oversee an internal investigation into the controversy is the leading candidate for a federal judgeship - for which she is being vetted by some of the same offices she supposedly is investigating.
Imagine if ace reporter Carl Bernstein had been interviewing to be White House press secretary while he was covering the Watergate scandal. That gives a sense of the scope of the conflict of interest facing Mary Patrice Brown, head of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Main Justice reports that Ms. Brown "is expected to secure a nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia."
As it is, OPR has been dragging its heels in its internal investigation, with some published reports suggesting that OPR still hasn't formally interviewed the career attorneys who brought the Black Panther case in the first place. If OPR can't even take that simple, necessary step seven months after commencing an inquiry, there is every reason to believe Ms. Brown and her staff have no real intention of getting to the bottom of this mess.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, was referring to Ms. Brown in a Jan. 26 letter to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine when he wrote: "I do not believe that this office is capable of conducting an unbiased and independent review of this case, given that it reports to a political appointee - an inherent conflict-of-interest. ..."
Already, the career attorney to whom Ms. Brown directly assigned the case, Mary Aubry, was a suspicious choice to investigate Obama administration politics because in 2008 alone, she donated $7,350 to campaign funds associated with then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Now Ms. Brown is in the position of being a job supplicant to the politically appointed leadership of the Justice Department and to the White House counsel's office just when her own division at the department is trying to ascertain whether that same leadership and counsel's office interfered with the Black Panther case for political reasons.
Mr. Fine, the inspector general, answered Mr. Wolf's letter by repeating testimony he had made to Congress on July 11, 2007, that OPR should not have jurisdiction over such matters, specifically because OPR "is not statutorily independent" and has a clear "conflict of interest." With Ms. Brown being considered for a judgeship, that simmering conflict of interest is now a potboiler. As a key decision-maker on the matter of judicial nominations, Mr. Holder has an obvious conflict in this case, and it is his own ethics that would be directly in question.