U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, sent letters Wednesday to Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking Sessions for internal Department of Justice documents and both for an explanation for differences between Farr's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and "his apparent awareness of a major voter suppression effort
," Booker's office said in a statement Wednesday.
Farr was nominated by President Trump in July and won a party-line approval from the Judiciary Committee in October. A former mayor of Newark, Booker has served in the U.S. Senate since 2013 and has frequently been mentioned as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Resistance from civil rights groups has dogged the nomination because of Farr's record
of supporting gerrymandering and voter ID legislation, as well as his association with North Carolina conservative icon Jesse Helms.
Farr did not immediately respond to a message left for him Wednesday at his Raleigh office.
The INDY has reported, in material cited by Booker's office Wednesday, that Farr knew ahead of time about, and was part of the planning for,
a controversial 1990 postcard campaign that Republicans designed to intimidate black voters, according to a Department of Justice complaint in 1992.
In a new development, Booker asked Sessions to supply to him and to members of the Judiciary Committee a U.S. Department of Justice "j-memo” regarding a controversial 1990 voting rights case in which Farr was involved.
"A j-memo is a document produced by the investigating attorney that either recommends filing a suit or closing the investigation," Booker's statement says. "It contains facts and legal arguments that support the filing of a lawsuit. It is clear to me that this memo is essential in determining whether Mr. Farr misled the Senate Judiciary Committee."
Booker also asked Farr six questions regarding his testimony.
Farr denied prior knowledge of the postcard campaign to this reporter during a 2009 interview for The News & Observer
, saying that he first heard about the campaign when notified by the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. He has declined comment since his nomination. Political strategist Carter Wrenn, who worked with Farr on Helms' senatorial campaigns, has laid the blame for the postcard mailing at his own feet.
"When the postcards were mailed, Farr was the legal counsel for the Helms campaign," Booker's statement says. "In September 2017, in response to written questions from Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Diane Feinstein, Farr denied knowing about the Helms postcard campaign prior to being mailed."
In two interviews with the INDY,
former Department of Justice investigator Gerald Hebert said that Farr was a part of planning sessions in which the Helms-tied company Jefferson Marketing and others discussed the postcard effort. The postcards were sent primarily to African-American voters and falsely told recipients they weren't eligible to vote and could be prosecuted if they tried. The effort became part of the subject of a Department of Justice complaint filed and settled in 1992.
"We talked to Farr, and he confirmed a lot of what we'd heard," Hebert told the INDY
last month. "I don't think he can really claim that the first he heard of it from a Justice Department letter."
Hebert cited contemporaneous notes he took in saying that Farr took part in the planning meeting in October 1990, a few weeks before the November election pitting Helms against former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt.
Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, an association of
public interest and civil rights organizations formed in 1979, issued the following statement Wednesday: “We applaud Senator Booker’s leadership in demanding answers regarding Thomas Farr’s exact role in the Helms campaign’s attempts to intimidate black voters in 1990. Farr told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was not consulted about the postcards, yet recent news reports suggest that Farr was deeply involved in this activity. Alliance for Justice has joined more than 25 other groups asking for a new hearing for Mr. Farr so that he can answer questions about his involvement with the postcards and his previous answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee."
Questions sent by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to Raleigh federal judge nominee Thomas Farr