On Monday, a group of GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee fired off a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, demanding he “fully and unequivocally withdraw” his memorandum that “target[ed] concerned parents at school board meetings” and was sent to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and federal prosecutors.
The group started by referring to Garland’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee last week concerning the October 4, 2021, memorandum, calling the testimony “troubling.” They pointed out:
You acknowledged that you issued the unusual directive soon after reading about the thinly sourced letter sent by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to President Biden and not because of any specific request from state or local law enforcement. You appeared to be surprised that the Department’s press release publicizing your memorandum noted the involvement of the National Security Division, the Departmental component responsible for prosecuting terrorism cases—despite testifying that concerned parents expressing themselves is protected First Amendment activity.
“You admitted to being completely unaware of a widely reported, high-profile case in Loudoun County, Virginia, cited in the NSBA’s letter as an example of domestic terrorism, in which a father angrily confronted the local school board about the heinous sexual assault of his daughter,” they continued.
They turned to Garland’s efforts to avoid discussing the effect of his memorandum:
During your testimony, you sidestepped the obvious effect of your ill-conceived memorandum and the chilling effect that invoking the full weight of the federal law enforcement apparatus would have on parents’ protected First Amendment speech. Parents have an undisputed right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, especially as school boards attempt to install controversial curricula. Local law enforcement—and not the FBI—are the appropriate authorities to address any local threats or violence.
“On October 22, 2021, the NSBA expressed regret about and formally apologized for its letter to President Biden,” they noted, claiming, “Because the NSBA letter was the basis for your memorandum and given that your memorandum has been and will continue to be read as threatening parents and chilling their protected First Amendment rights, the only responsible course of action is for you to fully and unequivocally withdraw your memorandum immediately.”
In the memorandum, Garland wrote:
In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. …
The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel. … I am directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.
Last Thursday, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) grilled Garland over a possible conflict of interest from the memorandum. In the letter, the National School Boards Association stated, “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
Johnson pointed out a federal regulation dealing with rules of impartiality for executive branch employees and officials in reference to Garland’s son-in-law, who reportedly co-founded a company that publishes and sells materials sympathetic to Critical Race Theory and so-called “anti-racism” ideas to schools across the country.
Johnson repeatedly asked Garland if he had asked for ethical guidance as to the propriety of the memo; Garland repeatedly answered that the memorandum targeted “violence and threats of violence” but would not commit to any kind of an ethics inquiry.
Johnson pointed out, “We need objective third-parties to review our activities. You don’t get to make that decision yourself.”
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