What the right won't tell you about the Black Panther case
Yesterday the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released the final version of its interim report on the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, complete with the dissents from the Democratic commissioners.
Some on the right, such as Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, are very excited about this report, insisting that it vindicates their claim that this is a real live scandal. But it doesn't do anything of the kind. Quite the opposite.
The dissents reveal a number of salient details about the case and the investigation that have been ignored, but that shed light on the mindset of the attorneys who filed the case and the original case itself. Even the original, infamous video of the two NBPP members standing outside the Philadelphia polling place was edited down, omitting a cryptic conversation between Republican poll watchers concerned about "[expletive] up the story."
As I've written before, former voting section attorney J. Christian Adams has found celebrity as a "whistleblower" among conservatives for testifying that the voting section dismissed a "slam dunk" voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party. In reality, in the weeks before the original complaint was filed, Adams was deeply worried that he didn't have enough evidence to go forward. "Under the statute, a black poll watcher for you being abused or insulted is critical, and thus far, I don't have one," Adams wrote in an e-mail, apparently to Republican political consultant Mike Roman.
The dissent notes that Adams apparently settled on an "account" given to them by Roman, who operates Election Journal, the website that initially posted the infamous video of the two NBPP members standing outside the polling place.
On December 11, 2008 -- eleven days before the J Memo was issued -- Mr. Roman offered to provide Mr. Adams with a "definitive chronology" and informed Mr. Adams that he planned to "make contact with each [Republican voter in the precinct] to determine if they felt any intimidation at the polling location." Mr. Adams described Mr. Roman's offer to interview witnesses for him as "fantastic."
It's beyond strange that Adams, who is accusing the Justice Department of politicization, would rely on a Republican political consultant to do his job for him. Although, as the report notes, Adams doesn't seem to have been able to cut it on his own. Fortunately, now Roman and Adams are colleagues of sorts, both contributors to Andrew Breitbart's website Big Government, where Adams weaves his grand tales of black racist conspiracies concocted by the Obama administration.
Having been unable to find any actual voters who were intimidated, Adams and his colleagues settle on the witness accounts of Republican poll watchers.
The J memo (or justification memo) arguing that the case should be brought forward states that two Republican poll watchers, Larry and Angela Counts, were so intimidated by the two NBPP that they were afraid to go outside, that they had their lunch brought to them as a result, and that Angela Counts had expressed the fear that someone might "bomb" the polling place.
When they were deposed by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, neither recalled ever actually seeing the NBPP members at all. Larry Counts expressed surprise that the NBPP even existed, mentioning that they were "dead," presumably referring to the actual Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 70s.
It's unclear why discrepancies between the depositions of the poll watchers and the J memo exist, as Adams and another attorney personally conducted those interviews. They appear to have mistakenly assumed that the Countses were Republicans -- in fact they were Democrats who were looking to make a little extra cash working as poll watchers. Perhaps the belief was that as Republicans, they'd go along with the narrative being constructed.
The report identifies other errors in the original J memo, including the proposition that both NBPP members were "armed" (only one possessed a baton) and refers to the NBPP as a "well organized group" that had planned to deploy 300 members at polling stations around the country. Which, as the report notes, because there were no other reports of NBPP members anywhere else in the country, that means that the party's plan for deployment "had a 99% failure rate."
The two conservative "whistleblowers" deposed by the commission have used the fact that the attorneys who evaluated the case recommended going forward as proof the case had merit. In fact, as one of the attorneys mentioned in an e-mail, "The most difficult case to make at this stage is against the national party and [NBPP leader] Malik Shabazz." But the recommendation was premised on the obviously inflated evidence in the J memo, with its "narrative" framed with help from an outside political consultant, and with only Republican poll watchers as witnesses.
Of course, when the case was reviewed by the Obama administration, the weakness of the case the case against the national party became apparent, so they pursued an injunction against the one NBPP member with a baton, a decision that has been the basis of the unparalleled waste of time and resources that is this investigation, not to mention elaborate conspiracy theories about the anti-white racism of the president and attorney general.
Again, this story has really been about two things -- attorneys associated with the politicized leadership of the Bush Justice Department taking revenge for having been exposed by the internal investigations conducted by the Justice Department, and discrediting the work of the Civil Rights Division itself. The next time a Republican President takes office, Republicans will use this single, trumped up incident to allege that "politicization" of arguably the most important function of government, upholding the rule of law, is mere business as usual.
Jennifer Rubin, (who, apparently lacking confidence in the credibility of her argument, refers to Heritage Foundation's Todd Gaziano as a "political independent") refers to the report as "a blistering rebuttal of the statements of Democratic commissioners," but the report is notable for its precise lack of such a rebuttal. There are twenty-two pages of dissent from Democratic Commissioners Michael Yaki and Arlan Melendez included in the report. The conservative commissioners do not refer to them at all. Instead they train their fire on the apostasy of Republican Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, who first identified the investigation as an effort to "topple" the Obama administration and offered a brief, one-page dissent the conservative commissioners dismiss as lacking "specifics."
I suppose if one pretends the specifics don't exist, then they don't exist. After all, you don't want to "[expletive] up the story" with facts.
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