Attorney General Merrick Garland repeatedly dodged whether he had sought an ethics review related to his controversial Justice Department school boards memo and his connections to his son-in-law’s left-wing education company.
The top Biden DOJ official strongly suggested on Wednesday he hadn’t sought such a review, though, as he argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee that there was no possible conflict of interest. Garland made the comments during robust questioning by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and his dodging was similar to his evasions during last week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing when he repeatedly refused to say whether he had already submitted himself to an ethics review and repeatedly refused to commit to any future ethics review.
“A big part of this letter is that they’re upset about parents not wanting critical race theory taught. Your son-in-law makes a very substantial sum of money from a company involved in the teaching of critical race theory,” Cruz said. “Did you seek and receive a decision from an ethics adviser at the Department of Justice before you carried out an action that would have a predictable financial benefit to your son-in-law?”
Garland replied that “this memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence” before Cruz cut him off and asked him again, in a pattern that would repeat multiple times. Garland replied, “You asked me whether I sought an ethics opinion about something that would have a predictable effect on something. This has no predictable effect in the way that you’re talking about.”
Republican senators and congressmen, along with parent groups and various activists, have questioned whether Garland has a conflict of interest because his daughter’s husband, Xan Tanner, co-founded Panorama Education. Panorama Education claims it has made its way into thousands of schools serving millions of students in the United States, selling race-focused student and teacher surveys and conducting training on systemic racism and oppression, white supremacy, implicit bias, and intersectionality, all under the rubric of “Social-Emotional Learning.”
Cruz asked Garland, “So, if critical race theory is taught in more schools, does your son-in-law make more money?” Garland started to say that “this memo has nothing” before he was cut off and was asked again, and the attorney general replied, “This memorandum has nothing to do with critical race theory or any other kind of curriculum.”
Cruz repeatedly returned to the question of whether Garland had sought an ethics review, and he never quite gave a direct answer but eventually said, “If I thought there was any reason to believe there was a conflict of interest, I would do that, but I cannot imagine a conflict of interest. … I would seek an ethics opinion in a circumstance where I thought there was a conflict of interest.”
As the questioning ended, Cruz said, “Let the record reflect that the attorney general refuses to answer whether he sought an ethics opinion, and apparently ethics are not a terribly high priority for the Biden Justice Department.”
Garland pushed back, “I don’t think that’s a fair reflection of what I said.”
Cruz again asked Garland to answer the question, and Democratic Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois ended the back-and-forth.
Garland also defended his memo on Wednesday, arguing the National School Boards Association’s decision to apologize for and withdraw its letter likening parent protesters to domestic terrorists didn’t change the merits of his memo despite his reliance on the NSBA letter’s concerns in writing it.
The attorney general revealed last week that the DOJ and the White House communicated about the late September NSBA letter before Garland issued his early October memo , and emails from the NSBA showed it was in touch with the White House about its letter prior to publishing. Internal emails showed NSBA board members objected to sending the letter to President Joe Biden , and the NSBA ended up withdrawing the letter the day after Garland’s testimony last Thursday.
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