Is Eric Holder playing dumb on a Justice Department scandal?
With Attorney General Eric Holder, one never is certain whether he is disingenuous or simply badly informed. He counseled the president that there was no choice but to disclose detainee abuse photos. The advice was wrong, and the recommendation was countermanded after a firestorm of criticism. He told the country that a civilian trial for 9/11 terrorists would offer a greater chance of conviction than a military tribunal. He memorably stumbled before the Senate Judiciary Committee in trying to defend that unfounded assertion. There, too, his advice seems destined to be ignored.
Then there is the New Black Panther Party scandal, a case about egregious voter intimidation brought by the Bush administration and dismissed by Obama political appointees after a default judgment had been obtained. As The Post and I have detailed, there is ample evidence from former Justice Department employees and from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that the administration concealed evidence of political appointees' role in dismissing a blatant case of voter intimidation and that in the department's voting section career employees and political appointees adhere to the view that voting rights laws should not be enforced against non-White defendants. And then there is Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez's misleading testimony under oath.
But Holder asserted in a New York Times interview that all of this is much to do about nothing:
"We've already seen this administration dismiss one case against a political ally -- the New Black Panther Party -- for no apparent reason," Mr. Issa and Mr. Smith wrote. "We remain concerned that politicization at the Justice Department once again may result in the administration's political friends getting a free pass."
Asked about the prospect of oversight hearings and subpoenas involving the New Black Panther case, Mr. Holder said, "there is no 'there' there."
"The notion that this made-up controversy leads to a belief that this Justice Department is not color-blind in enforcement of civil rights laws is simply not supported by the facts," he said. "All I have on my side with regard to that is the facts and the law."
Does he actually believe this to be the case, having been sheltered from testimony, news reports, and a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights? Or, does he imagine that he can simply bluster his way through the next two years without addressing the mound of evidence against his department? After all, his own Justice Department is conducting two internal investigations -- one by the Office of Professional Responsibility and one by the Inspector General. If there is nothing here, then certainly Holder's own employees would have long ago closed the books on their inquiries.
Well, it is time, finally, for Holder and Perez to be examined under oath.Similarly, the political appointee Julie Fernandes, who instructed Department attorneys not to pursue cases against African American defendants, should be summoned to give her account of events. The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), has been trying to get to the bottom of the controversy for over 18 months. Now he has the power to convene hearings and subpoena witnesses and evidence. At some point soon, Holder will be asked why he is unaware or unwilling to address the appearance of serious wrongdoing in the Justice Department, which he promised to rid of corruption and politicization when he took office.
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