An Inspector General’s report came out earlier this week suggesting that the expected choice to be President Obama’s next Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, gave misleading public testimony to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission about a lawsuit the department brought against the New Black Panther Party. Politico reports that the report also found that administrators in the department led by Perez had not resolved ongoing conflict “between a faction of the voting rights staff which favored litigation on behalf of minority groups and another which believed the department should do more to protect the rights of white voters.”
“Perez’s memo doesn’t directly respond to claims that he misled the U.S. Civil Rights Commission when he insisted that political appointees were not involved in the 2009 decisions to dismiss the bulk of a civil lawsuit the Justice Department brought in connection with alleged intimidation by members of the New Black Panther Party at a Philadelphia polling place in November 2008.
“Was there any political leadership involved in the decision not to pursue this particular case any further than it was?” Commission member Peter Kirsanow asked on May 14, 2010.
“No,” Perez responded. “The decisions were made by [Acting Civil Rights Division Chief] Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum, who is the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.”
However, Horowitz’s probe found that Attorney General Eric Holder “was briefed on and generally indicated his approval” of some key decisions on the case. In addition, the investigation found that two political appointees — then-Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch — “were involved in consultations about the decision [and] advised against a course of action” that a lower official said he was considering.
The report says that in an interview with investigators Perez “said he did not believe that these incidents constituted political appointees being ‘involved’ in the decision.”
While the report doesn’t claim that Perez deliberately misled the commission about the Black Panther episode, which occurred prior to Perez being confirmed to his post in October 2009, the IG criticizes his public comments on the issue.
“Perez’s testimony did not reflect the entire story,” the report says. “We believe that these facts evidence ‘involvement’ in the decision by political appointees within the ordinary meaning of that word and that Perez’s acknowledgement, in his statements on behalf of the Department, that political appointees were briefed on and could have overruled this decision did not capture the full extent of that involvement.”
Last year, a federal judge awarded legal fees to the conservative group Judicial Watch based in part on the group’s success in using the Freedom of Information Act to rebut Perez’s claims that political appointees did not take part in the decision.”
If Perez cannot get through the confirmation process, there will be no Latinos in President Obama’s cabinet because Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar have resigned. President Obama won re-election in November with over three quarters of the Latino vote.