The question all along, just as it had been with the Bush Justice Department, has been whether the Obama Justice Department interfered with ongoing investigations for political reasons, and whether that interference came from the White House itself. The Washington Times superimposed the known timeline of decisions on the Black Panther case with White House visitor logs. Here’s what we found:
March 12, 2009:
The Senate confirms Thomas J. Perrelli as associate attorney general of the United States. He does not visit the White House during the next 11 days.
Pursuant to the court’s notice, the lawyer team on the case (Christopher Coates, Robert Popper, J. Christian Adams and Spencer R. Fisher) presents its draft motion for “Request for Entry of Default” to the acting division chiefs (Loretta King and/or Steven H. Rosenbaum).
Mr. Perrelli sets up a White House visit with White House Associate Counsel Susan Davies. The meeting occurs the following day.
Kristen Clarke, director of political participation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, reportedly asked department officials to drop the case. It is unusual for the department to share its deliberations with outside groups that are not part of the case - especially when the department later claims attorney-client confidentiality as a reason for not discussing its decision-making, even after the fact, with Congress or an independent government commission.
The day the Black Panthers miss their deadline to contest the charges against them, Mr. Perrelli meets at the White House with Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts, herself a former lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
With no objection yet from Ms. King, the clerk for U.S. District Judge Stewart R. Dalzell enters the default judgment against all four original defendants.
Mr. Perrelli and fellow Justice Department political appointee Spencer Overton again meet with Ms. Butts at the White House. Mr. Overton is the author of “Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression,” which criticizes Republican efforts at “ballot security.” Mr. Overton is a noted critic of requiring voters to show identification at the polls.
Judge Dalzell issues an order recognizing that the Black Panthers were in default and giving Justice until May 1 to file their official Motion for Default Judgment.
Mr. Perrelli again meets with Ms. Butts.
By or on April 28:
Still apparently unaware that Ms. King and Messrs. Perrelli and Rosenbaum may want to spike the case, the Coates team lays out the case for a broad injunction against all four defendants.
Mr. Perrelli again meets with Ms. Butts in the White House.
Mr. Perrelli and Mr. Overton again visit Ms. Butts in the White House around noon. By 4 p.m., Ms. King has surprised the Coates team by ordering them, with Mr. Perrelli’s approval, to seek an extension of time to file the motion with the court.
First week of May:
Arguments go back and forth between the Coates team and the politicized supervisors.
Mr. Perrelli again visits Ms. Butts, along with an unnamed White House official, in the White House. Who was the unnamed official?
May 13 (a key date):
In an unusual move, department officials had asked the department’s Appellate Division to weigh in on the case. Memos from section chief Diana K. Flynn and Marie K. McElderry support the Coates team’s contention that the case should be fully pursued.
Mr. Perrelli again meets with Ms. Butts and another unnamed White House official. Again, who was the unnamed official?
May 13, evening:
Ms. King and Mr. Rosenbaum argue late into the evening, quite contentiously, with the Coates team about whether to pursue the case.
Mr. Perrelli sets up a meeting for May 18 with White House Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes. Arguments within Justice Department continue to rage.
Despite the advice from the Appellate Section and from the Coates team, Ms. King orders Mr. Coates and Mr. Popper to dismiss the case against three defendants and seek an extremely limited injunction against the fourth.
Now-cleared defendant Jerry Jackson is allowed again to serve as an official Democratic poll watcher in Philadelphia municipal elections.
Inquiries start coming from the press and Congress about the dismissal of the cases.
Mr. Perrelli meets at the White House with White House Counsel Gregory Craig.
After that flurry of meetings - 10 White House conclaves in two months - and with the cases now killed, Mr. Perrelli stops meeting at the White House so frequently. In the next two months, he visits only five times, two of those not with a lawyer but with Mr. Craig’s executive assistant, Catherine Whitney. On July 30, when The Washington Times first reported his involvement with the decision to drop the case, Mr. Perrelli called to set up another appointment with Ms. Butts for the following day. We have no record of Mr. Perrelli again visiting top White House lawyers after that.
In short, almost all of Mr. Perrelli’s key White House meetings coincide almost perfectly with key decisions and developments in the New Black Panther Party case. Yet the Justice Department continues to insist that there was no political interference involved in the decision - despite the lengthy political ties between New Black Panther Jerry Jackson and the Democratic Party, the long-standing personal ties between the key Justice Department officials and President Obama, and the long-simmering ideological dispute within the Justice Department about whether the department should indeed aggressively fight for civil rights protections for white voters, or just for minorities.