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EDITORIAL: Lack of Black Panther transparency

Justice Department should release report on voter-intimidation case

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Justice Department continues to do its best to whitewash its involvement in the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. The department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) wrote Tuesday to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar S. Smith to say it found no "misconduct" in Obama administration political appointees overruling career attorneys in dropping most charges and penalties against the individuals who stood menacingly outside a polling place in military-style uniforms, holding nightsticks.

The text of OPR's report, which took 19 months to complete, remains under wraps. That's not surprising considering the office has long been a hotbed for liberal attorneys. In January 2010, the Justice Department's senior career official, Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, ripped OPR's conduct in its most recent high-profile review. Mr. Margolis wrote that OPR had applied standards of conduct in the case of President George W. Bush's alleged "torture attorneys" John Yoo and Jay Bybee that didn't even exist at the time the supposed infractions occurred. He explained that those standards were "neither known nor unambiguous."

OPR rigged the deck then, and it likely rigged the deck this time too. It's hard to believe the Civil Rights Division's litigation chief Steven H. Rosenbaum, a presidential appointee and a key decisionmaker, was motivated entirely by law, not politics - even though he reportedly told career attorney Christopher Coates that he hadn't even read Mr. Coates' file on the case. Email logs also show a substantial flow of messages back and forth with political appointees at Justice regarding the scandal. The department came up with at least five explanations, often shifting, to explain its conduct in dropping the case. It even ignored word from the department's own appellate section that the entire Black Panther case seemed solid.

The Justice Department needs to come clean on this issue, and if it won't, Congress needs to take action. The legislative branch has the right to demand that OPR provide its full report with all supporting documents. As Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, explained in a July 2009 letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., "The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) includes a provision that states quite clearly that most of the FOIA exemptions ... do not apply to requests from Congress."

Stonewalling on the Black Panther case serves neither the public nor the Justice Department's long-term interests. Full disclosure is the best way to put this matter to rest once and for all.

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