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EDITORIAL: Witching hour for Black Panthers

Justice continues to block disclosure into department activities

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The Black Panther voter-intimidation scandal is approaching the boiling point on four different burners. Evidence grows that the Justice Department is using illegitimate means to keep a lid on legitimate investigations. Because his department can't be trusted to police itself, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. needs to appoint a special counsel.

On Wednesday, Judicial Watch - a private watchdog - filed a brief in its case seeking release of official memoranda, arguing that government stonewalling, "is about political interference in [Justice's] decision-making process and [the department's] efforts to avoid public scrutiny of that interference." Most abused is the "deliberative process" privilege, which is intended for discussions made before and during litigation but is being claimed for documents created after the Black Panther case was concluded.

On Thursday night, Todd Gaziano of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights protested, "The department doggedly continues to obstruct this investigation . . . Even the privileges that are recognized law (as opposed to being newly invented) are not valid against the [Civil Rights] Commission." His most significant revelation is that, "The department's own Office of Legal Counsel has issued at least two opinions, which are binding on the department unless overruled, that came to the same conclusion."

Mr. Holder has been hiding behind questionable self-investigations made by his own department. On Wednesday, former Justice attorney Hans von Spakovsky, now at the Heritage Foundation, challenged the bona fides of Robin Ashton, the new head of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility. OPR, which investigates ethics charges against department lawyers, has delayed for 17 months its inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by officials who dismissed complaints against the Black Panthers. Mr. von Spakovsky warns Ms. Ashton is "completely untrustworthy," especially regarding allegations of improperly "rifling through confidential files and documents," and charges Mr. Holder and other bureaucrats with directly compromising the overall OPR investigation.

The final internal review into Justice's seemingly race-based decision-making also lies in question. In September, Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine announced he would examine "whether the Voting Section has enforced the civil rights laws in a non-discriminatory manner; and whether any Voting Section employees have been harassed for participating in the investigation or prosecution of particular matters." Today, Mr. Fine retires from his post with that examination not even close to being finished. His successor will be appointed by President Obama based on Mr. Holder's recommendation. That's hardly a recipe for investigatory independence.

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