A top official at the United States Department of Justice likely helped manage the ongoing federal investigation into Harvard’s admissions practices, indicating the probe may be a high priority for the department, according to a D.C.-based civil rights organization.
The civil rights group—the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—said Friday that internal Justice Department emails show that high-level department administrator John M. Gore partly directed the assignment of attorneys to conduct the department’s investigation into Harvard’s admissions practices. Gore is the acting United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
The lawyers’ committee obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request. In one of those emails, Gore wrote that “We are moving forward with detailing some attorneys to initiate a Title VI investigation of a university’s admissions policy under the front office’s supervision.”
He added that he “reviewed and signed off on” the request for attorneys.
The internal communications only reference “a university” and do not explicitly mention Harvard. The Justice Department, though, has previously said it is investigating Harvard’s admissions policies.
A Department of Justice spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday. The department told the Boston Globe that “The Justice Department is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”
Reports of Gore’s involvement come roughly three months after an earlier Justice Department response to the same FOIA request effectively confirmed that the department is investigating allegations of discrimination against Asian-American applicants to the College.
In Nov. 2017, the Justice Department sent a letter to Harvard’s lawyers threatening legal action if the University did not comply with requests for certain student records. Harvard later offered the department on-site access to the records at the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale, the law firm that represents the University.
President Donald Trump appointee John Gore, a Republican lawyer and former partner at Jones Day, has represented clients in recent high-profile cases related to civil rights. He worked with the University of North Carolina in the Obama administration’s “bathroom bill” suit as well as with Republican state governments involved in controversial redistricting efforts.
Jon M. Greenbaum, chief counsel to the Lawyers’ Committee, told the Globe that Gore’s supervision of the Justice Department’s request for attorneys is unusual. He said it means the department has made the probe into Harvard’s admissions “a priority.”
Greenbaum did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an emailed statement Friday that Harvard is cooperating with the Justice Department probe.
“Harvard has offered the Department of Justice access to the requested documents in a manner that seeks to prevent public disclosure of confidential and highly sensitive student and applicant information entrusted to our protection,” Jackson wrote in the statement. “We believe our position to be in full compliance with our legal obligation under Title VI.”
Harvard is not only facing federal scrutiny—the University is also confronting legal challenges in the form of an ongoing, roughly three-year-old lawsuit filed by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions. The lawsuit alleges that Harvard’s admissions policies are discriminatory against Asian-American applicants.
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