Enough Is Enough, Joe Rich: An Uncivil Man from the Civil Rights Division

Over the last five years, the Bush administration’s Civil Rights Division has been subjected to blistering criticism, motivated almost exclusively by partisan and radical politics. The great bulk of these attacks have been penned by former lawyers from the Division, long considered to be the home of many of the most radical left-wing ideologues in the entire executive branch.

The criticism mostly consists of the same tired, recycled rhetoric that the left trots out every time Republicans occupy the Justice Department, and it’s no more convincing now than it ever was. In countless columns, I have shown why these attacks, including the inspector general’s biased, inaccurate, and partisan report on hiring, are meritless. Yet the hypocrisy of those primarily responsible for waging the assaults is not widely known.

It should surprise no one that the baseless attacks are largely driven by the left’s desperate effort to justify the array of radical policy shifts and transgressions of the Holder Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division over the past two years. What is problematic, though, is that the lawyers authoring this criticism have been consistently portrayed by the media as apolitical, virtuous, career civil servants.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the loudest critics has been the former chief of the Division’s Voting Section, Joseph Rich. Rich has falsely claimed that there has never been anything “close to the type of politicization” that occurred in the Bush administration. Ever since he took advantage of a $25,000 buyout for Justice employees and retired in 2005, Rich has been writing editorials for left-wing publications, making the rounds at liberal policy forums, and peddling to any reporter within earshot his contrived, conspiracy-laden theories about the supposed politicization of the Voting Section during the prior administration. Rich launches these broadsides from his current job as a senior director at the highly radical Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The reason I have reluctantly been forced to finally highlight some of the lowlights of Rich’s tenure in the Civil Rights Division is that he has injected himself into a variety of significant election issues affecting this nation, including now the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case.

He has filed an affidavit with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission disputing some of the allegations made in the Commission’s investigation, including my own sworn affidavit, making his veracity and credibility a public issue. He has unfairly painted the attorneys on that case as partisans, while at the same time he hides in the shadows as a partisan of the worst kind -- a dishonest partisan. Rich is entitled to write and give whatever opinions he wants. But his treatment in the media as nothing more than a long-time, apolitical civil servant who eschewed politics during his tenure in the Division should stop.

Rich allowed rank politics to pervade the Division to a degree almost unimaginable. It is time for the media to learn some inconvenient truths about the real Joe Rich, which also reflect the professionalism (or lack thereof) and partisanship of so many of the other lawyers in the Division.

The AIDS Smear

One of the most telling incidents about Rich was his actions toward my former colleague and friend, Joe Beard. Beard and I were both hired to work on election reform issues in the Voting Section, although Beard began slightly before me in 2001. Prior to his arrival, Beard had been active in Republican politics (just as many other Voting Section attorneys were active in Democratic politics in their pre-DOJ days) and had worked as a special counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights during the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

Rich knew all about this history and seemed bound and determined to make Beard’s life miserable. Rich, however, wasn’t content with petty snipes, and he eventually crossed the line from harmless political gossip to vindictive animosity and personal character assassination.

It occurred in a conversation Rich was having with Chris Coates, then a trial attorney in the Voting Section. (Many readers will recognize Coates as the Voting Section chief whose authority was stripped from him by the new Obama political leadership in the Civil Rights Division, and who was subsequently “transferred” to South Carolina in early 2010.) Rich commented how much he resented having Beard in the Section because of his work in the Reagan years under former Assistant Attorney General Brad Reynolds. Coates listened attentively, but said nothing.

Then, out of the blue, Rich pointed out that Beard suffered from AIDS, a fact largely unknown outside a small group of Beard’s closest friends, and personal information available to Rich only because of his supervisory position in the Voting Section.

Coates was simultaneously stunned and revolted that Rich would reveal such confidential information. Coates had absolutely no reason to know this information and couldn’t believe that Rich would stoop to such a level in the name of rank politics. Character assassination clearly mattered little to Rich, but it was a very big deal to a gentleman like Coates, who recounted what happened to me. There is a basic level of human decency that one would hope individuals of all political stripes would respect. Joe Rich didn’t show it.

This incident demonstrated that Rich could not be trusted and was beyond redemption. Sadly, Joe Beard died soon after I learned of Rich’s distasteful comments. We can only hope that Beard was not fully aware of the terrible things being said about him by his boss.

Mercifully, I was transferred out of Voting to the front office of the Division approximately one year after I first started at Justice to work as a career counsel to the assistant attorney general.