Attorney General Garland grilled by GOP senators over DOJ memo targeting parents at school meetings


Attorney General Merrick Garland testified Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a broad hearing about the actions of the Justice Department on a variety of issues. He faced several rounds of tough questions from Senators on subjects including the DOJ’s potential criminal prosecution of former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, as well as a recent memorandum the AG issued that called for a mobilization of the FBI against Americans threatening school boards. 

The forthcoming Bannon decision by DOJ follows a House vote to hold him in contempt for refusing to answer subpoenas from the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, but Senate Republicans largely sought to better understand Garland’s thinking behind the October 4 memo.

Garland faced aggressive questioning from Senate Republicans including Tom Cotton (Arkansas), John Cornyn (Texas), and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) about the memo that addressed threats against school boards, which was written in response to a letter from the National School Boards Association that conflated the actions of discontent parents with “domestic terrorism.” 

Senator Grassley, the committee’s top Republican, delivered a scathing opening statement, in which he said: “The last thing the Justice Department and FBI need is a vague memo to unleash their power – especially when they’ve shown zero interest in holding their own accountable.”

In front of the Senate committee, Garland said that his memo “responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct,” as opposed to more average instances of interference by parents concerned about their children’s education.

Garland sought to distance his memorandum from the NSBA letter that conflated parents with domestic terrorists. “It (the memo) alters some of the language in the letter that we did not rely on and is not contained in my own memorandum. The only thing the Justice Department is concerned about is violence and threats of violence,” he said.

Last week, Garland defended his decision to mobilize the FBI to work with local law enforcement to address rising threats of violence against school board members before a congressional panel.

When faced with questions, Garland said, “True threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. Those are the things we are worried about here. Those are the only things we are worried about here. We are not investigating peaceful protests or parent involvement in school board meetings.

“There is no precedent for doing that and we would never do that. We are only concerned about violence and threats of violence against school administrators, teachers, staff.”

Though, the attorney general clarified that “parents have been complaining about the education of their children and about school boards since there were such things as school boards and public education. This is totally protected by the First Amendment.”

The oversight hearing also included questions for Garland about the DOJ’s intent to prosecute cases pertaining to the January 6 Capitol breach, the surge of illegal immigrants at the U.S. southern border, the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and increased terror threat from the region, and the FBI’s mishandling of the probe into now-convicted sexual offender Larry Nassar. 

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