AG Garland refuses to retract controversial school board memo during Senate hearing – New York Post

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to “resign in disgrace” after an intense exchange over Garland’s controversial school board memo during a Wednesday hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Arkansas Republican began his line of questioning by pointing attention to the National Institutes of Health admitting to funding gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at China’s Wuhan lab — despite Fauci repeatedly insisting to Congress that no such thing happened.

“Are you investigating Tony Fauci for lying to Congress?” Cotton asked.

“A long time rule in the Justice Department, not to discuss pending investigations, potential investigations,” Garland responded, before Cotton quickly shifted his inquiries to the memo, which announced that federal law enforcement would be involved in investigations pertaining to parents protesting local school boards.

After asking if the attorney general consulted with senior leadership at the Federal Bureau of Investigation prior to releasing the memo, Cotton asked Garland if anyone at the agency expressed “any doubt, or disagreement, or hesitation.”

“No one expressed that to me, no one to me,” Garland said.

“A lot of FBI officials have contacted my office and said that they oppose this decision right now,” Cotton fired back.

Garland repeated that no one expressed any disagreement directly to him.

Cotton proceeded to blast the attorney general for avoiding simple questions asked throughout the hearing, including why the National Security Division is being included in a task force for the investigation.

“What is the National Security Division — judge the national — these are the people, they’re supposed to be chasing jihadists and Chinese spies, what’s the National Security Division have to do with parents at school boards?” Cotton pressed.

“This is not, again, about parents at school boards. It’s about threats of violence,” Garland said.

“Let me turn to that because you’ve said that phrase repeatedly throughout the morning threats or violence and threats of violence, violence and threats of violence,” Cotton replied.

“We’ve heard it a dozen times this morning. As Senator Lee pointed out, the very first line in your October 4 memorandum refers to harassment and intimidation. Why do you continue to dissemble from this committee that you’re only talking about violence and threats of violence, when your memo says harassment and intimidation?”

“I said it in my testimony that it involved other kinds of criminal conduct. And the — and I explained to Senator Lee that the statutory definitions of those terms and the constitutional definitions of those terms involved threats of violence,” Garland said.

Cotton and Garland continued to spat back and forth over the memo, and eventually began to discuss a sexual assault case that was reportedly covered up by school board members in Loudoun County, Virginia, a case Garland was unable to answer questions about when appearing before the House, saying he wasn’t “familiar” with the case.

This week, the 15-year-old Virginia boy has been found guilty of the sexual assault that led to his victim’s dad being arrested and branded a “domestic terrorist,” while protesting it at a school board meeting.

Cotton asked Garland if he would apologize to the father of the girl involved in the incident.

“This year, this testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful. That’s not — thank God you’re not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, judge,” Cotton concluded.

“This memorandum is not about parents being able to object in their school boards. They are protected by the First Amendment. As long as there are no threats of violence. They are completely protected,” Garland responded.

During the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed Garland to retract the memo, saying local school officials and parents would no longer speak up during school board meetings “out of fear.”

Grassley, the ranking member of the committee, noted that Garland’s memo followed a request by the National School Boards Association, which asked the federal government to get involved, comparing alleged threats of violence to “domestic terrorism.”

Last week, Grassley noted, the NSBA board of directors “disavowed” the letter, saying “we regret and apologize for the letter” that was co-signed by association CEO Chip Slaven and president Viola Garcia.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that he will not retract the memo that mobilized the FBI against school parents, inciting angry protests.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he will not retract the memo that mobilized the FBI against school parents, inciting angry protests.
TASOS KATOPODIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“To be clear, the safety of school board members, other public school officials, and students is our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue,” the board wrote. “However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”

“So last week, the organization disavowed it, sent you and the White House, based your memo on this delegitimize letter. I assume you’re going to revoke your extremely divisive memo that you said was instigated because of that letter. That’s a question,” Grassley said to Garland. 

“Senator, the memo — which I refer to as one page — that responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct,” Garland responded. “That’s all it’s about and all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with, meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance if it is necessary.” 

Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board disavowing the need for the FBI but noted they can still voice concern about the safety.
Attorney General Merrick Garland acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board disavowing the need for the FBI but noted they can still voice concern about the safety.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting.
Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Grassley pressed further, saying, “Presumably, you wrote the memo because of the letter. The letter is disavowed now, so you’re going to keep your memo going anyway, right? Is that what you’re telling me?”

Garland did not directly answer Grassley’s question but acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board. He noted that while the board apologized for the language, they can still voice concern about the safety of school board officials and school staff. 

“The language in the letter that they disavow is language was never included in my memo and never would have been. I did not adopt every concern that they had in their letter. I thought that only the concern about violence and threats of violence that hasn’t changed,” Garland said. 

Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest over the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
Shelley Slebrch and other angry parents and community members protest the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) also pressed the attorney general on why he has not rescinded or apologized for the memo given the NSBA’s board’s apology. 

“You did not apologize for your memorandum of October the 4th even though the National School Boards Association did, why didn’t you rescind that memorandum and apologize for your memorandum or responsibility of the Justice Department?” Cornyn asked.

Garland again did not directly respond to the senator’s question, saying, “As I said in my opening, [the memo] is protecting Americans from violence and threats of violence.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks with Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks with Committee Chairman Dick Durbin as he arrives to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP

The memo in question, issued earlier this month, announced the federal investigation of “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” 

Garland’s memo did not detail what the “threats of violence” were, but many parents and Republican politicians have accused him of targeting parents for speaking out against the implementation of mask mandates and critical race theory in K-12 schools.