FNC Exclusive: Former DOJ Attorney Discusses New Black Panther Party Voter Intimidation Case
J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS, FORMER JUSTIC DEPARTMENT LAWYER: Well, people were standing in front of the polls with weapons in Philadelphia on the day that President Obama was elected in 2008. The Justice Department brought a case in January under the voter intimidation statutes against the New Black Panther Party, the individuals who organized the deployment and the folks with the weapons in Philadelphia at the polls.
MEGYN KELLY, “AMERICA LIVE” HOST: Ok, and so the guy we see banging the baton, he was one defendant. The guy next to him who was said to have been saying intimidating things, he was a defendant. The New Black Panther Party was a defendant and the head of it was a defendant.
ADAMS: That’s right, all four.
KELLY: Ok, and what was basically the heart of the case against them.
ADAMS: Yeah, this 1965 Voting Rights Act protects voters from voter intimidation. You’re supposed to be able to go vote without somebody with a weapon shouting racial slurs at you like these folks were doing in Philadelphia.
KELLY: What were they saying?
ADAMS: Well, they said, “You’re about to be ruled by the black man, Cracker”. They called people “white devils”. They menaced, they tapped their baton. They tried to stop people from entering the polls.
KELLY: Is there any question in your mind that that violates the law.
ADAMS: No, nor anybody that worked on the case. It’s the easiest case I ever had at the Justice Department. It doesn’t get any easier than this. If this doesn’t constitute voter intimidation, nothing will.
KELLY: And you had, you had not just that video tape, which we’ve all now seen, but you had witness testimony from some credible witnesses who were there.
ADAMS: That’s right Bartle Bull; he’s a long time Robert F. Kennedy civil rights activist, worked in Mississippi in the ’60s. He said it was the worst case of voter intimidation he has ever seen in his 40 years of practicing civil rights laws.
KELLY: So it was clear to you a case needed to be brought.
ADAMS: Slam dunk. I mean, nobody thought there was any doubt that this was the clearest case of voter intimidation that I’ve seen since I’ve been practicing law.
KELLY: All right, so when the case was originally filed, who was at the top? Was it President Bush or was it President Obama?
ADAMS: It was President Bush. It was January of 2009.
KELLY: Ok. So the case gets filed, you become the lead attorney on this case.
ADAMS: But there were other attorneys working on it. Five attorneys in all worked on this case, in the voting section: Chris Coates, Bob Popper, Spencer Fisher and Grace Chung Becker who authorized it, she was the assistant attorney general during the Bush administration.
KELLY: And Chris Coates, his name is going to come up later. He was your boss?
ADAMS: That’s correct.
KELLY: And how many years had he been at DOJ?
ADAMS: He’s a voting rights giant. He’s been practicing voting rights law since 1976. He’s literally one of the greatest voting rights attorneys in the history of the country. And he was the, really the lead on this case.
KELLY: And there was no doubt in his mind this case needed to be pursued?
ADAMS: There was no doubt in anybody’s mind, at least not the people who were working hard on the case there was no doubt.
KELLY: Ok, so you bring the case against these four defendants. The two guys we see on camera, the party and the head of the party. And what happens next?
ADAMS: Well you cruise along. The defendants didn’t even appear, they didn’t even answer, the just ignored the charges.
KELLY: They didn’t bother to defend it in any way?
ADAMS: No, it’s like ignoring a speeding ticket. They just blew it off. They didn’t show up for court, they didn’t file any papers, they didn’t do anything.
KELLY: So you get something that’s called a default judgment, meaning a judgment because they didn’t bother to defend it and the judge says to you at the Department of Justice, OK, write up an order and tell me whether you want to make this final essentially.
ADAMS: Yeah, the court had already found and entered the fault against the defendants. It was done. All we had to do is tell the judge what we wanted for punishment.
KELLY: OK, but instead of doing that, something changed at the Department of Justice. What happened?
ADAMS: Well, the case was dismissed on May 15. All the charges were dropped against three of the defendants and the final order against one of the defendants was a timid restraint.
KELLY: So, the only person who wound up facing any punishment was the guy with the baton. And instead of having a permanent injunction, which is what you guys wanted, never let this guy near a polling station to do this, to do this kind of thing again, he got what?
ADAMS: He’s stopped from appearing at the polls with a weapon only in the city of Philadelphia and only for a couple more years.
KELLY: And the other three defendants?
ADAMS: Nothing. They’re dismissed from the case completely.
KELLY: Ok, so what happened at the Department of Justice to get you to the point where you literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory?
ADAMS: Sure, well what happened was, and it’s been testimony. We were ordered to dismiss the case. I mean we were told drop the charges against the New Black Panther Party.
KELLY: Who told you that?
Attorney General Eric Holder
ADAMS: Well, the testimony has been that Steve Rosenbaum and Loretta King, two political officials at the Department ordered the dismissal of the case. Of course that was the first story. Eventually it was revealed that there were more people involved. But originally Steve Rosenbaum and Loretta King, two political appointees did.
KELLY: And did you personally speak with Mr. Rosenbaum and Ms. King about the dismissal of this case?
ADAMS: No. Chris Coates and Bob Popper did. Two other attorneys.
KELLY: Ok. And what was your understanding based on those discussions about their reasons.
ADAMS: Well, you know the Department has said that the facts and the law don’t support going forward on the case. Now, obviously that’s false. Anyone with eyes can see that the facts and the law would support this case. Uh, there’s video. Take for example Jerry Jackson; he’s the tall Black Panther. He’s also a Democratic elected official from the city of Philadelphia.
KELLY: The one without the baton.
ADAMS: That’s right. There is sworn testimony in front of the Civil Rights Commission that Jackson tried to stop people from going into the polls. Witnesses testified that he tried to block them from entering the polls, yet they dismissed the case against him.
KELLY: So, but what was the reason? That’s what I’m trying to get at. You, the trial attorneys, the career lawyers at DOJ said we have a victory. We think this case has merit. And you were told what?
ADAMS: Dismiss the case. That the facts and the law don’t support this. I can’t explain it.
KELLY: What was really going on?
ADAMS: Well, I mean, there is a pervasive hostility to bringing these sorts of civil rights cases. I’ve worked on other ones at the Justice Department. I’ve worked on cases in Mississippi. I’ve represented both black victims of racial discrimination and Hispanic victims and in this case a white victim of racial discrimination. There is a pervasive hostility within the civil rights division at the Justice Department toward these sorts of cases.
KELLY: Do you believe that the DOJ has a policy now of not pursuing cases if the defendant is black and the victim is white?
ADAM: Well, particularly in voting. In voting that will be the case over the next few years, there’s no doubt about it.
KELLY: There isn’t?
ADAM: None, I mean, instructions were, if you had all the attorneys that worked on this case I am quite sure that they would say the exact same thing. And that other attorneys gave instructions that the voting section would not be pursuing these sorts of cases.
KELLY: Who specifically has issued that mandate?
ADAMS: Well, you know, there’s some things I’m not going to reveal as far as who they are. They know who they are. They’ve said that if somebody wants to bring these kind of cases that’s not going to be done out of the civil rights division. If a U.S. attorney wants to do it, that’s up to them, but it’s not going to happen out of the civil rights division.
KELLY: Let me ask you this. Is it somebody or is it several people in positions of power?
ADAMS: Yeah, it’s a political appointee. It’s a political appointee.
KELLY: You have said that after the dismissal of the New Black Panther’s case that a mandate was issued that no more of these cases brought against black defendants would be brought. Is that the case?
ADAMS: That’s what I just said. Look, this is an administration that campaigned on transparency. They campaigned on restoring integrity to the Justice Department and they also claim they’re going to be post-racial. On all three of those they flunked the test on the Black Panther dismissal. None of these things came through.
KELLY: Now before these. You said these were political appointees who made the decision basically. Loretta King and Rosen- this guy Steve Rosenbaum, right?
KELLY: Ok. The Department has said they are not appointees. These are career Department of Justice lawyers and so it wasn’t politics in the mix in making this decision.
ADAMS: Yeah. Obviously that’s false. Under the vacancy reform act they were serving a political capacity. This is one of the examples of Congress not being told the truth, the American people not being told the truth about this case. It’s one of other examples in this case where the truth simply is becoming another victim of the process.
KELLY: Now, I want to get to what was said to Congress. And what was said to the US Commission on Civil Rights in a minute, but I want to ask you: when you were arguing, when the career, when the trial attorneys were trying to convince these two political attorneys to let the case go forward, you’d already won, saying don’t reverse our victory essentially.
KELLY: There was a meeting. And these lawyers would later testify, the political lawyers would later come out and say that they reviewed all the evidence, the Department of Justice has said they looked at all the evidence and they made a decision based on that evidence the case couldn’t go forward. You say there is evidence that they did not review the facts of this case and even the briefs of this case.
ADAMS: Yeah. It’s obviously false that they knew all the evidence. They, uh, Steve Rosenbaum hadn’t even read the memos which detailed all of the facts and the law. Before he started arguing against the case the mind was made up. And it was so derelict and so corrupt that Chris Coates actually threw the memo at Steve Rosenbaum and said how dare you make these arguments without even knowing what’s in the briefs?
KELLY: So, your boss, the guy that had been a career DOJ lawyer, voting rights lawyer, throws the memo, throws a brief at the head of this guy Steve Rosenbaum?
ADAMS: He very passionately believed in the merits of this case and very much opposed corruption of this sort. And he was angry.
KELLY: What was the response? I mean that’s an extraordinary story.
ADAMS: I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
KELLY: But this came to you from Coates.
KELLY: And you have no doubt that it occurred.
ADAMS: There’s no question that it occurred.
KELLY: So what — do you know the explanation from Rosenbaum from this other woman Loretta King as to why they hadn’t bothered to read the briefs at the DOJ on this case and why it should go forward?
ADAMS: Uh, they will probably deny that they didn’t read it, but you can’t explain something like that.