Republican to Holder: Probe ‘rat’s nest’ in DOJ civil rights shop

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Monday called for an outside independent panel to investigate the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Wolf, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, said a recent inspector general report raised numerous troubling instances of internal mismanagement that he said indicate the division “has become a rat’s nest of unacceptable and unprofessional actions.”

“One cannot read the report without concluding that the division has suffered systemic mismanagement,” said Wolf in his letter sent Monday. “It has become a rat’s nest of unacceptable and unprofessional actions, and even outright threats against career attorneys and systemic mismanagement.”

The DOJ’s inspector general found numerous examples of harassment in the department's voting rights division, but determined it did not prioritize cases in a partisan manner under President Obama or former President George W. Bush. 

The lengthy report found that the often divisive nature of the voting rights section’s work — including reviews of redistricting cases, voter ID laws and voter registration issues — resulted in instances of harassment within DOJ.

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Wolf acknowledged that the division’s problems were not isolated to Holder’s tenure as the department’s head, but said it was up to him to solve them.

“Although the troubling actions documented in the report are not limited to your tenure as attorney general, it is unacceptable that these practices have continued on your watch,” said Wolf. “As the head of the department, you bear ultimate responsibility for the serious abuses that have occurred over the last four years.”

Holder is expected to appear next month before Wolf’s Appropriations subcommittee, which oversees the DOJ’s budget.

Wolf suggested that James Comey lead the outside independent panel for a 60-day “in-depth review of all officials, attorneys and policies both within the division and to make recommendations to the department and to the Congress on how to repair the culture and to address the systemic dysfunction that has taken root within the division.” Comey was the former deputy attorney general under Bush.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz initiated the investigation at lawmakers’ request, and out of a concern that political favoritism may have existed within the division, which handles voting rights issues.

Investigators interviewed more than 80 people and reviewed more than 100,000 pages of DOJ documents.

One of the most high-profile issues was the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) voter intimidation case, which was brought by DOJ under the Bush administration but was later dismissed by Attorney General Eric Holder under Obama.

Republicans, especially Wolf, have repeatedly questioned Holder’s decision not to pursue charges against the New Black Panther members, who were accused of intimidating voters approaching a Philadelphia polling station in 2008.

But the IG report found that DOJ acted appropriately under both administrations.

“In the highly controversial [New Black Panther Party] matter, we found that the decisions that were reached by both administrations were ultimately supportable on non-racial and non-partisan grounds,” stated the IG report.

The report determined, however, that internal polarization was common within the Department of Justice during certain time periods, resulting largely from the change in prosecutorial priorities from the Bush administration to Obama’s transition into the White House.

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In one particular 2007 incident, under Bush, three male attorneys “who were perceived to be conservatives” made harassing comments to a female non-attorney employee “who was perceived to be a liberal,” according to the report.

“Contemporaneous documents indicate that the attorneys made highly offensive and inappropriate sexual comments about the employee, including her sexual orientation, and remarks about how she was 'pro-black' in her work,” the report states.

The IG report said that while most of the people found to have violated the DOJ’s policies have already left the department, some of those have remained and have been referred for administrative review.

Wolf called for the firing of those mentioned in the report who are still employed at DOJ.

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