Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the No. 3 official in the Obama Justice Department, was consulted and ultimately approved a decision in May to reverse course and drop a civil complaint accusing three members of the New Black Panther Party of intimidating voters in Philadelphia during November's election, according to interviews.
The department's career lawyers in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division who pursued the complaint for five months had recommended that Justice seek sanctions against the party and three of its members after the government had already won a default judgment in federal court against the men.
Front-line lawyers were in the final stages of completing that work when they were unexpectedly told by their superiors in late April to seek a delay after a meeting between political appointees and career supervisors, according to federal records and interviews.
The delay was ordered by then-acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King after she discussed with Mr. Perrelli concerns about the case during one of their regular review meetings, according to the interviews.
Ms. King, a career senior executive service official, had been named by President Obama in January to temporarily fill the vacant political position of assistant attorney general for civil rights while a permanent choice could be made.
She and other career supervisors ultimately recommended dropping the case against two of the men and the party and seeking a restraining order against the one man who wielded a nightstick at the Philadelphia polling place. Mr. Perrelli approved that plan, officials said.
Questions about how high inside the department the decision to drop the case went have persisted in Congress and in the media for weeks...