EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding answers from the FBI on how they are complying with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s directive targeting harassment and threats of violence at school board meetings, while slamming the Justice Department for efforts to “target concerned parents” and “chill their protected First Amendment activity.”
All Republican lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, led by ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, penned a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, notifying him of their continued investigation into what they call the “troubling attempts” by the DOJ and the White House to “use the heavy hand of federal law enforcement” to target parents.
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“The Attorney General directed you and all U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to take action to address parents attending school board meetings,” they wrote. “This unusual directive is particularly worrisome as it applies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and given the FBI’s illegal spying on the Trump campaign and its scandalous history of misconduct and politicization.”
The Republicans were referring to the FBI’s work in securing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in its effort to probe whether the campaign was colluding with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Garland has not directed the FBI to obtain FISA warrants against parents.
Last month, the attorney general sent a memo to the FBI, office for U.S. attorneys, and the DOJ’s Criminal Division to notify officials that the agency would “use its authority and resources” to identify threats at school board meetings against faculty, and “prosecute them when appropriate.”
Garland’s memo said the FBI would partner with local law enforcement, and each U.S. attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial leaders in each federal district within 30 days. Garland said the meetings would “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.”
The memo also announced that the FBI’s involvement would help to “determine how federal enforcement can be used to prosecute these crimes.”
The memo was sent after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Garland citing instances, including nonviolent behavior that did not include threats, but that was deemed disruptive. The NSBA had called for the use of measures, including the Patriot Act, which is typically used to address terrorism. Their second letter said they “regret and apologize for the letter,” stating that “there was no justification for some of the language” they had used.
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“Concerned parents voicing their strong opposition to controversial curricula at local schools are not domestic terrorists,” the Republicans wrote to Wray Wednesday. “Parents have an undisputed right to direct the upbringing and education of their children.”
They added, though, that when parents “cross the line to commit a violent act or issue a criminal threat, state and local authorities are best-equipped to handle these violations of state law.”
“But we must not tolerate the use of the federal law enforcement apparatus to intimidate and silence parents using their constitutional rights to advocate for their child’s future,” they wrote.
The Republicans demanded answers on whether the meetings with Justice Department and FBI officials with local and state leaders are “ongoing,” requesting all documents and communications relating to the meetings and an explanation on whether Wray has issued guidance to FBI local field offices. They also asked for all recommendations, formal and informal, presented in the meetings.
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The Republicans also asked the FBI to explain whether it considers Garland’s directive “lawful,” and whether Wray intends to direct FBI agents and employees to “enforce” the directive.
The letter was signed by Jordan, and GOP Reps. Steve Chabot, Louie Gohmert, Darrell Issa, Ken Buck, Matt Gaetz, Mike Johnson, Andy Biggs, Tom McClintock, W. Gregory Steube, Tom Tiffany, Thomas Massie, Chip Roy, Dan Bishop, Michelle Fischbach, Victoria Spartz, Scott Fitzgerald, Cliff Bentz and Burgess Owens.
Republicans demanded a response from Wray and the materials to be transmitted to them by the end of the day on Nov. 17.
Garland has maintained that his memo is about threats of violence, and does not target parents for speaking out against mask mandates and curriculum, like critical race theory, in schools.
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Garland claimed during Senate testimony that the DOJ is not just concerned about school board officials, but a “rising tide” of violence against judges, prosecutors, election administrators and others.
“The only thing the Justice Department is concerned about: violence and threats of violence,” he said last month, continuing to defend his memo, and claiming that it was a response “to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct.”
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“That’s all it’s about,” he continued, “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’s necessary.”