WASHINGTON - President Obama's Department of Justice, the same agency that stunningly dismissed most counts against baton-waving New Black Panthers who confronted Philadelphia voters in front of a polling place in 2008, now is jumping into the investigation of allegations that members of the "white middle class" intimidated minority voters in Harris County, Texas, by "hovering."
The case has developed in a county Terry O'Rourke, the first assistant in the county attorney's office, described to WND as probably having the most diverse population anywhere in the United States.
Because of concerns over the integrity of elections, several groups researched the voting procedures and records. Among the results was that of the 25,000 voter registrations submitted by a group called Houston Votes, headed by a man who also worked for the Service Employees International Union, only 1,793 actually were valid.
Given that evidence, when early voting in the county opened this week, there were a number of teams that went into some of the suspect areas to monitor the voting.
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But, O'Rourke confirmed to WND, the poll watchers were "almost all white and middle class" and were going into "low-income neighborhoods."
Under the best of circumstances that probably would generate antagonism, he suggested.
The result was that Gerry Birnberg, the Harris County Democratic chairman, told reporters that a number of complaints had been submitted about poll watchers "hovering" over voters and "getting in their face."
A spokeswoman for local U.S. attorney's office said their team was playing no role in the review of events. But she said the investigators from DOJ headquarters in Washington were involved, and a spokesman in D.C. confirmed that for WND.
Attorney General Eric Holder participates in a ground breaking on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Museum in Washington on October 14, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom
She described the involvement of the agency run by Attorney General Eric Holder as "looking into allegations of voter intimidation."
O'Rourke told WND that local officials already had held a meeting with political party leaders and others over the rights and responsibilities of poll watchers, and the number of complaints had dropped of dramatically during days two and three of voting.
He said the goal was to make sure the election was "free of fraud and voter intimidation."
According to a Houston Chronicle report, Birnberg leveled the accusation that the poll watchers at issue had been trained by the "tea party-affiliated group the King Street Patriots."
The same report cited county Republican chief Jared Woodfill raising the issue of reports that GOP poll watchers also had been harassed.
According to the report, Hiram Sasser, who is director of litigation for Liberty Institute, is advising the Patriots. He explained that the poll watchers who have been trained through the group know to "follow the rules."
"What's different this time is that there probably are more poll watchers now than there have ever been before," he said.
At the Washington Examiner, opinion Editor David Freddoso wrote under the headline: "DOJ goes after tea partiers, leaves club-wielding Black Panthers alone."
"It may well be that these tea partiers (or other poll watchers, since it's not clear who belongs to the group) are out of line in some of their behavior (not unlike Michelle Obama on her trip to the polls), and if so, they should be kicked out of the polling places and punished for whatever the problem is. But given that the case against them has been built and brought by the Texas Democratic Party, it's at least worth considering what sort of collusion is going on and whether the problem is that there are poll watchers in certain locations, full stop.
"Obama's politicized Justice Department has already lost all credibility when it comes to even-handed administration of justice on this matter. They let the Black Panthers off with one wrist-slap and two complete dismissals after their flagrant voter intimidation was caught on tape. Now they're worried about poll watchers 'talking to voters,'" he continued.
His reference to Michelle Obama was about the recent report, highlighted on the Drudge Report, on how she voted in Illinois then let other voters take photographs with her inside the polling location.
"She was telling me how important it was to vote to keep her husband's agenda going," reported electrician Dennis Campbell.
But Drudge quoted a state law that prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.
No problem, Drudge quoted a state board of elections official explaining, "You kind of have to drop the standard for the first lady, right? I mean, she's pretty well liked and probably doesn't know what she's doing."
According to Fox News, Texas Democrats only days earlier had sued the King Street Patriots, claiming the organization will be acting "to deceive and discourage lawful voting."
WND previously reported on the Philadelphia case, which was documented on video.
As WND reported, the Justice Department originally brought the case against four armed men who witnesses say derided voters with catcalls of "white devil" and "cracker" and told voters they should prepare to be "ruled by the black man."
One poll watcher called police after he reportedly saw one of the men brandishing a nightstick to threaten voters.
"As I walked up, they closed ranks, next to each other," the witness told Fox News at the time. "So I walked directly in between them, went inside and found the poll watchers. They said they'd been here for about an hour. And they told us not to come outside because a black man is going to win this election no matter what."
He said the man with a nightstick told him, "'We're tired of white supremacy,' and he starts tapping the nightstick in his hand. At which point I said, 'OK, we're not going to get in a fistfight right here,' and I called the police."
However, the case mostly was dropped.
Subsequently, former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that the Voting Section of Holder's organization is dominated by a "culture of hostility" toward bringing cases against blacks and other minorities who violate voting-rights laws.
Further, two other former U.S. Department of Justice attorneys later corroborated key elements of the explosive allegations by Adams.
One of Adams' DOJ colleagues, former Voting Section trial attorney Hans A. von Spakovsky, told WND he saw Adams was being attacked in the media for lack of corroboration. He said he knew Adams was telling the truth, so he decided on his own to step forward.
In an affidavit, von Spakovsky stated, "I can confirm from my own experience as a career lawyer that there was a dominant attitude within the Division and the Voting Section of hostility towards the race-neutral enforcement of voting-rights law."
Von Spakovsky also asked another old colleague, former DOJ Special Counsel for Voting Matters Karl S. Bowers Jr. to go on the record. Bowers is now in private practice in South Carolina.
In his own affidavit, Bowers stated: "In my experience, there was a pervasive culture in the Civil Rights Division and within the Voting Section of apathy and in some cases outright hostility towards race-neutral enforcement of voting-rights laws among large segments of career attorneys."
It was Adams who had been ordered by his superiors to drop a case prosecutors already had won against the Philadelphia activists. When they were ordered to stop prosecution, Adams and the team of DOJ lawyers had already won the case by default because the New Black Panthers declined to defend themselves in court. At that point in the proceedings, the DOJ team was simply waiting for the judge to assign penalties against the New Black Panthers.
Adams claimed that the decision to drop the case was made by Obama political appointees. Dropping a case that was already won was "unprecedented," he said.
Adams alleged that many DOJ employees, both career civil servants and political appointees, have told him that the DOJ "doesn't have the resources" to enforce the voting-rights laws in a "race-neutral" manner by bringing cases against members of minority groups who violate the law. Others have refused to work on either of the two cases against black perpetrators, saying, "I didn't join the voting-rights division to sue black people."
Adams said one DOJ staffer told his former superior, Christopher Coates, then the chief of the DOJ's Voting Section, "Can you believe we're being sent down to Mississippi to defend white people?" He reported another staffer told Coates, "the Brown case has gotten us into so much trouble with civil-rights groups."
According to Adams, some members of the DOJ Voting Section staff were "harassed" by other members "for working on the Brown case." An internal department investigation led to sanctions against some staffers for "badgering" others because they worked on the Brown case and held "evangelical religious views."