Published July 07, 2010
The bipartisan panel investigating allegations that the Justice Department wrongly abandoned a case against the New Black Panther Party plans to issue a new round of subpoenas and call for a separate federal probe following explosive testimony from an ex-Justice official, a commissioner said.
As the case heats up, members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights may even travel to South Carolina to track down one witness.
Former Justice attorney J. Christian Adams on Tuesday testified before the commission that his former employer not only abandoned the voter intimidation case for racial reasons, but had instructed attorneys in the civil rights division to ignore cases that involve black defendants and white victims.
Commissioner Ashley Taylor said the panel will send out a letter as early as Wednesday calling for the Justice Department to open an investigation into the charge. The letter will go to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who in May told the panel to bring any such claims "to our attention" if there's evidence.
"I think (the testimony) provided the evidence of the policy he said he was unaware of," Taylor said, calling Adams' allegations "serious" and "shocking."
Further, after Adams repeatedly urged the commission to pursue testimony from former voting section chief Christopher Coates -- whom the Justice Department is accused of shielding -- Taylor said the commission will renew its subpoenas for Coates and others. He expressed optimism that the attention and interest building in the case would put pressure on Justice to free Coates to testify.
"I could tell just from the reaction of the other commissioners, we want to hear from him," he told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. "I am confident that if we just keep asking the right questions ... all the facts will come out."
Taylor said the Coates subpoena would go out within the month, and that commissioners may even travel to South Carolina, where Coates has been transferred, to issue the subpoena. The rules require that the commission be within 100 miles of a witness in order to issue one.
Adams, who has been accused by the Justice Department of distorting the facts and promoting his own "agenda," repeatedly claimed Tuesday that Coates would be able to corroborate his story.
The department abandoned the New Black Panther case last year. It stemmed from an incident on Election Day in 2008 in Philadelphia, where members of the party were videotaped in front of a polling place dressed in military-style uniforms and allegedly hurling racial slurs while one brandished a night stick.
The Bush Justice Department brought the first case against three members of the group, accusing them in a civil complaint of violating the Voter Rights Act. The Obama administration initially pursued the case, winning a default judgment in federal court in April 2009 when the Black Panther members did not appear in court. But then the administration moved to dismiss the charges the following month after getting one of the New Black Panther members to agree to not carry a "deadly weapon" near a polling place until 2012.
In a statement Tuesday, a Justice spokesman said the civil rights division determined "the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims" against the two other defendants and denied Adams' allegations.
"The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation," the spokesman said.
Taylor, a Republican, served as Virginia's deputy attorney general from 1998 to 2001.