Surprise! Investigation Doesn’t End GOP Complaints About New Black Panther Case

Nearly two and a half years after two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling station in Philadelphia — and after an extensive internal probe found no improper political influence of the Justice Department’s decision to drop a civil voter intimidation case against all but one of the defendants — conservatives are showing no signs they’ll let the issue drop.

As TPM reported yesterday, the Justice Department said in a letter to members of Congress that after an extensive investigation, they found that neither the race of the defendants or political considerations affected the Justice Department’s handling of the voter intimidation case.

But many on the right smell a cover up. FoxNation.com called it a “whitewash.” J. Christian Adams, the conservative lawyer hired during the Bush administration who was one of two Civil Rights Division Voting Section line attorneys who filed case, wrote for the website Pajamas Media that the “fix came in.”Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement sent to reporters that he appreciated OPR’s response and “its finding that the Bush Administration’s suit against the New Black Panther Party was justified.” (That’s not quite accurate — the letter from OPR expressly says they “did not attempt to evaluate the relative merits” of the differing positions on the New Black Panther Party case, but did write that the attorneys involved “made good faith, reasonable assessments of the facts and the law.”)

But Smith said that OPR’s letter “did not address the Civil Rights Division’s misguided policy of using racial considerations when determining whether to enforce voting rights laws.”

Smith’s statement here adopts as fact the claims that the Justice Department considers race when enforcing voting rights laws (an allegation that DOJ has flatly rejected) which has also been said about DOJ’s handling of the New Black Panther case. In the New Black Panther case specifically, OPR found no evidence to support allegations raised during the course of their investigation that decision makers were influenced by the race of the defendants.

“The Division should protect the voting rights of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, religion or political affiliation. The Inspector General is investigating whether the Civil Rights Division has used race as a litmus test for the enforcement of voting rights laws,” Smith said. “The Committee will conduct a thorough review of the Civil Rights Division and the IG’s findings when they are released.”

Interestingly, Adams had previously written (as Matt Gertz of Media Matters points out) that the report “concludes that the case was brought because of racial bias” but now says that the “final report has changed from what it was on March 14.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are touting the report as evidence of what they’ve been saying all along.

“OPR’s findings of no misconduct in the handling of the New Black Panther Party case vindicate what I have stated for nearly two years: there was no evidence of racial bias in the decisionmaking of the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder,” former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Michael Yaki said in a statement to reporters.

“What OPR’s report underscores that the so-called ‘investigation’ of the Justice Department by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was a partisan-driven witch-hunt,” Yaki wrote. “Despite my many appeals, my right-wing colleagues refused to wait for the OPR process to conclude, instead engaging in inflammatory rhetoric, unfounded allegations, and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.”

“The amount of time, verbiage, and resources wasted on this futile exercise was a deliberate attempt by the right-wing of the Commission to play race politics and divert the attention of the Commission away from critical civil rights issues that needed to be addressed,” Yaki, who is awaiting reappointment to the commission, wrote in the email.

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