GOP, Holder battle over New Black Panthers

Key House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder of playing politics at the Justice Department.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Holder has ignored at least three letters sent over the past month from Republicans demanding to know why Justice dismissed charges of voter intimidation filed against two members of the “New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” (NBPP).

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NBPP National Chairman Milik Zulu Shabazz and party member Jerry Jackson both faces charges for violating the Voting Rights Act for engaging in coercion, threats and intimidation and attempted coercion, threats, and intimidation of voters and those aiding voters at a Philadelphia polling station on November 4th, 2008.

Charges against the Black Panthers were originally filed when President George W. Bush was in power.

A spokeswoman for Justice said facts did not back up the charges, and that career officials at Justice, not political appointees, decided to drop the charges.

“Following a thorough review, a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division determined that the facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims against three of the defendants,” spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said. “As a result, the Department dismissed those claims.”

Committee sources said they expected Justice to send a letter on Monday to Wolf and other members, and to brief Republicans on why the charges were dropped.

Holder let stand one of the four original charges though. The leader of the black nationalist group’s Philadelphia chapter, Minister King Samir Shabazz, is charged with brandishing a “deadly weapon,” a nightstick, outside of the polls.

As a result, he was punished with not being able to brandish a weapon within 100 ft. of a polling station in Philadelphia until after the 2012 elections.

Wolf, ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee that funds Justice, has called on Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) to hold a hearing into the matter. He said one of the Black Panther members was allegedly carrying a local Democratic committee card.

In a letter to Conyers, Wolf wrote that Justice’s inaction ‘merits congressional attention, if only to force the department to explain its decision to dismiss this case.”

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on Judiciary, also said the dismissal raises questions about politicization at Justice.

“The American people need to know that the Justice Department takes seriously cases of voter intimidation, regardless of the political party of the defendants,” Smith said.

He noted that Conyers held 70-hearings on the political firings of several U.S. Attorneys under former Bush.

Conyers has not ruled out holding an investigative hearing but wants to take the situation “one-step at a time,” Democratic committee sources said.

These sources said Conyers told Holder to respond to the GOP request for answers after speaking with Wolf about the matter on Thursday.

Shabazz and Jackson were captured on widely circulated video of the incident standing 10-15 feet from the polling station.  The two men are seen standing shoulder to shoulder, dressed in black military-style uniforms, black berets and combat boots; Shabazz tapped and pointed the nightstick in his hands at individuals.

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Wolf and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) asked Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine to investigate the dismissal of charges, which the two said raises significant concerns about possible politicization of the law enforcement agency.

According to an affidavit filed by veteran voting rights activist Bartle Bull, who monitored elections in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement, the New Black Panther¹s directed racist comments towards white poll workers such as “you are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.”

Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) says those charges are “bull.”

The congressman, who also chairs the Philadelphia Democratic Party, said he went to the polling station on election day last year after hearing about reports of threatening behavior, but found no evidence.

“They weren¹t intimidating anybody, they didn¹t try to suppress any votes,”
said Brady.

That’s not enough for Wolf, a native Philadelphian, who has repeatedly asked to hear from Holder why the charges were dropped by Justice.

“This guy (Attorney General Eric) Holder is a jerk,” Wolf told the Hill on Thursday out of frustration that the AG had rebuffed each request for answers.