Wolf seeks Panther case dismissal probe

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A senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee asked the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General on Tuesday to investigate “potential improprieties” in the department’s dismissal of a civil complaint brought against the New Black Panther Party after its members disrupted a Philadelphia polling place in the November 2008 elections.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia told Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in a letter he was “disappointed” in Mr. Fine’s “reluctance to investigate the unfounded dismissal of an important voter intimidation case,” adding that despite repeated requests for information by members of Congress, the press and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Justice Department “continues to stonewall all efforts to obtain information regarding the cases abrupt dismissal.

“This obstruction should be of great concern to you and merit an immediate investigation,” Mr. Wolf said. “Given that neither the Congress nor the commission can obtain critical information from the department, your authority as inspector general is the only way to learn whether the department has engaged in improper conduct with regard to the dismissal of this case and its hostility to the commissions statutory authorities and responsibilities.”

He also questioned statements made by New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, who he said has been quoted issuing threatening comments toward him and Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, both of whom have sought information on the case.

According to Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shabazz recently issued a statement that said: “These right-wing white, red-faced, red-neck Republicans are attacking the hell out of the New Black Panther Party, and were organizing now to fight back … We gearing up for a showdown with this cracker … He keep talking — we going to Capitol Hill, were just gearing up right now, well go to Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Wolf said, “When laws arent enforced, lawless men like Mr. Shabazz feel more emboldened to spread their intimidation.”

Mr. Zulu Shabazz, a D.C. lawyer, did not respond to e-mails sent to his office. New Black Panther Party officials also did not respond to messages left Tuesday on their headquarters telephone.

Cynthia Schnedar, spokeswoman for Mr. Fine, said: “We received the letter and are carefully reviewing it.”

Tuesday’s request was the second time Mr. Wolf has asked Mr. Fine to conduct an inquiry in the case. In July, his request was referred to the Justice Departments Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which reports to the attorney general.

“Although OPR opened a preliminary investigation into the dismissal, more than seven months later I still have received no additional information,” Mr. Wolf said. “I do not believe this office is capable of conducting an unbiased and independent review of this case given that it reports to a political appointee.”

In the letter, Mr. Wolf said he believed Justice Department officials involved in the dismissal had engaged in “activities that are an abuse of power, a blatant violation of voting rights enforcement, and potentially even defrauding of members of Congress and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by obstructing legitimate investigations of this matter.”

He said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had not responded to questions about the case in six letters since June and that the dismissal was opposed by the four career attorneys who managed the case.

Mr. Wolf also noted that the Justice Department had “thwarted all attempts” by the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate the matter as part of its statutory responsibility to ensure the enforcement of civil rights law. As a result, he said, the commission has subpoenaed the department for information in the case as well as to interview the career attorneys who handled it.

“DOJ is flagrantly obstructing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights statutory authority to provide oversight of the enforcement of civil rights laws,” he said. “The department has instructed its career attorneys not to comply with subpoenas issued by the commission. This is an inherent conflict of interest with DOJs statutory responsibility to enforce the commissions investigations and subpoenas.”

Mr. Wolf also said Mr. Fine should be “deeply troubled by the broad scope” of privileges the Justice Department has claimed in refusing to answer interrogatory questions submitted by the commission, questioning what precedent they would have on future congressional oversight.

Although the complaint was dismissed, the department brought a separate sanction against Minister King Samir Shabazz, who was accused of wielding a nightstick — prohibiting him from bringing a nightstick to a polling place until 2012.

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