A coalition of GOP senators are asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to return to the Senate Judiciary Committee to clarify an Oct. 4 memo that the senators say treated “parents at school boards as domestic terrorists.”
The Nov. 29 letter, addressed to Garland, was spearheaded by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and is co-signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). In the letter, the senators accuse Garland of misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee during an Oct. 27 hearing.
The senators’ letter comes as parents across the country attend school board meetings and reach out to school officials to express their grievances with schools for teaching critical race theory and other loaded social issues to children.
After a trend of such occurrences, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a controversial letter to President Joe Biden asking him to “deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation,” including through the use of Department of Homeland Defense, FBI, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies (pdf).
The letter was met with immediate pushback, causing several schools to withdraw from the NSBA; The organization itself has since apologized for the letter.
But Garland, a failed Supreme Court nominee who was marketed by President Barack Obama as a moderate, has taken a particular interest in these parents.
In a memo released by Garland’s Department of Justice (DOJ) on Oct. 4, the DOJ explained how it would address “violent threats against school officials.” The expressed grievances of parents, the DOJ, represents “a disturbing trend” of “harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools.”
However, the memo gave no examples of this alleged conduct.
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” wrote Attorney General Garland, who promised to use federal resources to fight these parents, involving the federal government in largely state-level affairs.
“Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety,” Garland added.
The memo immediately drew criticism from Republicans, who have argued that the memo targets concerned parents practicing their First Amendment rights.
At an Oct. 21 meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, Garland denied these allegations.
“I want to be clear. The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in the schools. That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘PATRIOT Act,’” Garland said then.
At an Oct. 27 meeting before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland made much the same argument. “My Memo says nothing about domestic terrorism, says nothing about parents committing any such things,” Garland argued when pressed on the DOJ’s alleged effort to target parents.
However on Oct. 20, before either meeting of the Judiciary committees, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Leif Johnson sent a letter to county attorneys’ offices across the state offering advice and federal aid to prosecutors seeking convictions against aggrieved parents.
The letter suggested pages worth of federal offenses that could be used to charge these parents, ranging from conspiracy to civil rights violations.
And the letter makes clear that Garland himself was not in the dark about the affair.
“In response to a nationwide rise in threats and acts of violence against our educational community, Attorney General Garland has directed the FBI and the United States attorneys to partner with federal, state, local and tribal leaders to address the problem,” the letter read.
Now, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are demanding an explanation for Garland’s “deeply misleading” statements before the Senate on Oct. 27. Those statements, the coalition of GOP senators wrote, “are inconsistent with the letter U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana to local officials to provide a roadmap for prosecution and to offer the FBI’s assistance.”
To further bolster their case against Garland, the senators cited a report by a Federal Bureau of Investigation whistleblower “that the heads of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Counterterrorism Division have instructed their agents and analysts to use a designated threat tag whenever they encounter potential threats, harassment, and intimidation of school officials.”
The senators continued, “This suggests that the Bureau is looking for opportunities to pursue investigations, including using counterterrorism authorities and tools, under the Memorandum.”
“These facts raise concerns about the testimony you provided on October 27 and about the Department’s and the FBI’s ongoing efforts pursuant to your Memorandum,” the senators wrote.
“It is critical for Members of the Judiciary Committee to engage in robust oversight of DOJ’s actions, especially when those actions affect our nation’s core principles, including federalism and the protection of robust and open debate,” the letter concludes. “We respectfully request that you work with the Committee staff to schedule another hearing as soon as possible.”
Garland has not yet commented on the letter or the request.