Garland: school board memo aimed at violence, not parent protests; 6 cases referred to local authorities
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Merrick Garland told a House panel Wednesday the FBI received 22 reports of threats against school officials after he circulated a controversial 2021 memo and the agency referred six cases to state and local authorities to investigate.
Garland issued his memo to FBI agents about assisting local law enforcement days after receiving a letter from the National School Boards Association, which followed widespread reports of parents threatening school board members, administrators and teachers over COVID-19 policies.
The revelation about how many reports the memo generated is significant to House Republicans because they have accused the Justice Department of targeting parents protesting at school boards, which Garland denies.
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Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., said Garland should withdraw the memo because it resulted in federal counterterrorism agents investigating Americans protesting at school boards rather than leaving conflicts for local authorities.
“Six were actually investigated by the counterterrorism division of the FBI, citizens of this country who were trying to make their voices heard at their school board meetings and instead were tagged by the FBI as terrorists by agents of this government seeking to silence their voices,” Cline said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s budget.
Garland said the memo was aimed at violence and threats of violence, and that parents protesting at school boards are protected by the Constitution.
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“The investigations were not aimed at hard-working individuals who were just trying to protest,” Garland said. “My understanding is that there were no full field investigations opened at all. All of them in the end were referred to state and local” authorities.
Here is what we know about the inquiry:
GOP questions FBI ‘threat tag’ for school board cases
Republicans have said whistleblowers reported the FBI using a “threat tag” to track potential investigations of parents who protested at school boards. Cline asked why the FBI created the tag EDUOFFICIALS to label the cases.
“After it was determined that this was not a national threat, you refused to withdraw the memo and agents of the FBI continued to act as if your memo were still in force and still in effect," Cline said.
Garland said tags help the FBI measure cases by different categories, such as for threats against educators or Supreme Court justices.
“Tags don’t mean anything other than a way to track how many threats of this kind are aimed at particular kinds of people, so the FBI can figure out whether this is a serious problem or not a serious problem,” Garland said.
School-board memo part of wide-ranging GOP investigations of Biden administration
The school board memo has become one of the highest profile inquiries House Republicans have focused on, amid wide-ranging investigations of the Biden administration. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has also subpoenaed former executives of a school board advocacy group.
Other inquiries at the Judiciary Committee include whether social media companies are suppressing conservative views. The Oversight and Accountability Committee has focused on the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
GOP demands answers, Democrats call requests 'outrageous'
House Republicans called another hearing Wednesday to question the FBI and Education Department about providing more documents dealing with school board investigations. The result was a partisan clash over the pace the committee received documents.
Cline, the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee reviewing the Biden administration’s response to document requests, said the FBI produced four pages of documents about school boards by a March 1 deadline and more later.
“This committee will not allow delay and indifference to obstruct the legislative process,” Cline said.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., said the witnesses hadn’t provided any substantive information.
“The American people want answers,” he said.
But Democrats said Republicans were unrealistic with their demands because the agencies were providing documents and holding meetings to provide more.
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, accused Republicans of serving Trump as a “committee on obstruction of justice.”
“No parent has a right to threaten a school board volunteer,” Swalwell said.
Rep. Glenn Ivey, D-Md., said the FBI and Education Department were being held to an unreasonable standard.
“You’ve done everything you needed to do,” said Ivey, a former assistant U.S. attorney. “A subpoena the day after you replied is outrageous.”
How did the FBI, Education Department reply?
Administration officials said they were working to provide documents requested but have to vet them for confidential information such as personal data or how decisions were made.
Christopher Dunham, FBI acting assistant director of the office of congressional affairs, said since 2021 the agency testified at 32 congressional hearings and participated in hundreds of briefings. Since January, the FBI provided 1,000 pages of documents on nine topics, he said.
“The FBI is complying with the committee’s requests in good faith,” Dunham said.
Roberto Rodriguez, Education Department assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, said the agency provided 1,335 pages to the committee so far.
“The department will continue to voluntarily engage with the committee about its informational needs,” Rodriguez said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ school board memo: Garland says FBI sent 6 cases to local police