Friday, July 31, 2009

The Justice Department’s decision to drop an already-won voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party merits multiple, independent investigations.

On Tuesday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, officially asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to refile the case. Mr. Holder should comply.

So far, the Justice Department has stonewalled legitimate inquiry. It has yet to provide records sought by this newspaper back in May. It has yet to answer a July 22 letter from Mr. Wolf that asks 35 questions on 17 different subjects relating to the Black Panther case. Justice has claimed, falsely, that the decision to drop the case was made by career attorneys only, not by political appointees. And it has declined to let congressmen interview the career attorneys who originally filed, and won, the case against the Black Panthers.

As first reported by The Washington Times, career attorneys at Justice already had won a default judgment against three Black Panthers and the party as a whole for intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place while wearing paramilitary-style garb, as one of them brandished a nightstick and made racial threats.

One of the Black Panthers, Jerry Jackson, was an official poll watcher for the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler refused several times to say whether department lawyers consulted with any outsiders. Yet Kristen Clarke of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund confirmed that she talked about the case with Justice Department lawyers.

Ms. Schmaler said she would not talk about “internal deliberations.” But if they consulted with outside groups, those deliberations by definition are not just internal.

Robert N. Driscoll, former chief of staff of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, told us it would be ethically dubious if political appointees consulted with outside interest groups without telling the career attorneys who filed the case. “I would be hammered if I were to have had such a meeting,” he said.

Mr. Wolf’s July 22 letter raised numerous discrepancies between Justice Department explanations and readily available facts. In a July 13 letter to the congressman, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch wrote that the department dropped the cases against the New Black Panther Party as a whole and its leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, because “the factual contentions in the complaint did not have sufficient evidentiary support” to prove that they “managed” and “directed” the intimidating behavior of the two Panthers deployed at that polling place.

Mr. Wolf responded that, “the confession on national television by Malik Zulu Shabazz on Nov. 7, 2008, flatly contradicts your assertion. Mr. Shabazz unequivocally claims that his activities in Philadelphia were part of a nationwide effort involving hundreds of party members, and that the use of weapons was a necessary part of the Black Panther deployment.”

Mr. Welch claimed one reason the charges against Mr. Jackson were dropped was that “he was a resident of the apartment building where the polling place was located,” and thus allowed to be there. Mr. Wolf wrote back that Mr. Jackson “has never resided” at that address, which is a senior living facility called Guild House. At a fit and trim age 53, Mr. Jackson hardly qualifies for a retirement home.

Mr. Jackson’s MySpace page still lists one of his main “general interests” as “Killing Crakkkas.” Four days after the Justice Department dropped the complaint against Mr. Jackson, he again was named an official election poll watcher for the Democratic primary in Philadelphia’s municipal election. How convenient.

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