An assistant attorney general President Obama is considering for labor secretary oversaw a Justice Department section hampered by racially-charged ideological divisions, an inspector general report says.
The long-awaited report, spawned by the New Black Panther Party voter harassment investigation, takes issue with the working atmosphere at the voting rights section that falls under Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.
The report’s revelations are certain to surface during Mr. Perez’s confirmation process, including information that his testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights regarding the New Black Panther Party case was incomplete. While the report said investigators did not find that Mr. Perez intentionally misled the commission, he was testifying as a Justice Department witness and should have sought more details from others about the nature and extent of the participation of political employees in the New Black Panther Party decision in advance of his testimony.
The report said Mr. Perez knew whether political appointees were involved in the decision to dismiss the case and told the IG’s office he expected questions about it would arise during his testimony.
“We believe that these facts evidence ‘involvement’ in the decision by political appointees within the ordinary meaning of that word, and that Perez’s acknowledgment, in his statements on behalf of the department, that political appointees were briefed on and could have overruled this decision did not capture the full extent of that involvement,” the report said.
The report also noted that Mr. Perez left out information that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and a deputy associate attorney general were involved in consultations about the decision to drop the New Black Panther case.
“The report makes clear that the division has become a rat’s nest of unacceptable and unprofessional actions, and even outright threats against career attorneys and systemic mismanagement,” Mr. Wolf said Tuesday. “Above all, I believe that Attorney General Holder has failed in his leadership of this Justice Department.
“As the head of the department, he alone bears ultimate responsibility for the serious abuses that occurred on his watch over the last four years,” he said.
The report said polarization within the voting rights section had been exacerbated by the question of whether voting rights laws that were enacted in response to discrimination against blacks and other minorities also should be used to challenge allegedly improper voting practices harming white voters.
Views on this question among many employees within the section were sharply divergent and strongly held, the report said, noting that disputes were ignited when the division’s leadership decided to pursue particular cases or investigations on behalf of white victims, and more recently when division leadership stated that it would focus on “traditional” civil rights cases on behalf of racial or ethnic minorities who have been the historical victims of discrimination.
“We also found that some career employees in the voting section contributed significantly to the atmosphere of polarization and distrust by harassing other career employees due at least in part to their political ideology or for positions taken on particular cases,” Mr. Horowitz said, noting that the behavior included outward hostility, snide and mocking emails, and accessing the attorney’s electronic documents on the voting section shared drive without his permission.
In a written response to the report, Mr. Perez said the Justice Department “takes very seriously” any allegations of harassment, mistreatment, unauthorized disclosure of internal information, and other unprofessional conduct, adding that “a number of troubling incidents” in the inspector general’s report “have no place in the department, and we have taken steps to prevent similar incidents from recurring.”
“We acknowledge, as your report notes, that voting rights enforcement is a particularly important area in which to assure professionalism and impartiality, and we recognize the need to continue taking additional steps to maintain and strengthen the culture of the Voting Section and to foster a work environment that is as collegial and healthy as possible,” said Mr. Perez, who heads the department’s civil rights division.
‘No direct evidence’
The report found “no direct evidence,” such as emails or memoranda, to show laws were enforced in a discriminatory manner or to establish a policy prohibiting cases against black defendants or in support of white victims.