Attorney General Merrick Garland was grilled today by GOP Senators over the role the DOJ played in the issuing of a now-infamous memo where it ordered the FBI to discuss strategies to address alleged threats against school board officials, teachers, and staff. A move that has been heavily criticized by the GOP as an attempt to suppress criticisms of school boards from concerned parents.
The row between garland and Republican Senators comes after months of controversy and heated discussions in school boards across the country over the content in the school’s curriculums. Recently, a scandal has engulfed Loudoun County, as it was revealed that board officials knew about a case of sexual assault in a school within their district and lied about it in later meetings.
During a Senate hearing, Garland defended the directive, saying that the memo “does not say to begin prosecuting anybody. It says to make assessments” Garland, who is also famous for being Obama’s failed nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016, also said that the decision “had nothing to do with politics”.
The DOJ memo came days after a letter calling parents domestic terrorists
The DOJ document that is in the middle of the controversy was issued just a few days after the National School Board Association sent a letter to the administration saying that the leaders of the public school system were “under immediate threat” and it asked federal authorities and law enforcement to deal with the issue. However, the most controversial piece of the letter was when the NSBA said that these alleged threats “could be the equivalent of domestic terrorism” and that should be prosecuted under the PATRIOT ACT.
The NSBA eventually issued an apology for the content of the letter, after many regional school boards associations voted to withdraw from the national organization due to the outrage caused by the letter. The timing of the letter seems to suggest that it was an important factor in Garland’s decision to issue the memo, as the NSBA letter was signed on September 29th and the DOJ’s directive was issued on October 4, just two office days after the NSBA letter.
Republicans grill Merrick Garland for the memo, Democrats defend him
Garland’s defense, mainly that the memo did not target parents and that it was only a measure aimed at assessing if there are enough threats to board members and school faculty, did not sit well with Republican lawmakers, who have sharpened their criticisms against the Attorney General.
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) said that “most of the American people are just sort of flabbergasted if your answer is you have no regrets about this memo. Is that what you’re telling us?”. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also heavily criticized Garland’s directive, saying that it sent a “poisonous, chilling effect” and that it looked like “something that would come out from a communist country”.
One of the most poignant criticisms came from Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) who called Mr. Garland to “resign in disgrace” and said he was grateful the judge was never actually confirmed to fill a seat in the Supreme Court when he was nominated by President Obama for the late Antonin Scalia’s seat in 2016.
Democrats defended Mr. Garland’s actions, with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) saying that Republicans’ criticisms over the Attorney General as “really inconsistent with the facts” and said that defending free speech “does not involve threats and violence”. Senator Corey Booker (D-NY) said that the reports of rising violence against school officials are true and that Mr. Garland has said that he “protect spirited debate”.