October 21, 2021
Attorney General Merrick Garland told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that federal prosecutors “are doing exactly what they are expected to do” in investigating the Jan. 6 pro-Trump attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The attorney general quickly came under fire at the hearing from Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who blasted him for a controversial Oct. 4 memo announcing that the FBI would investigate threats or intimidation by parents against school board members who object to actions such as the use of critical race theory in schools.
The memo came five days after the National Association of School Boards requested help from President Biden to quell stormy school board meetings around the country.
“If that’s not political, I don’t know what is,” Mr. Jordan said, calling it a “snitch line on parents … who object to some racist, hate-America curriculum.”
Mr. Jordan told the attorney general, “Americans are afraid. They tell me for the first time, they fear their government. I think your memo, Mr. Attorney General, was the last straw. I think it was the catalyst for a great awakening that is just getting started. Americans are pushing back, because Americans value freedom.”
Mr. Garland said the Justice Department “supports and defends the First Amendment rights of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in schools.”
“That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘Patriot Act,’ ” Mr. Garland said. “I can’t imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstance of parents’ complaint about their children.”
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican said it was “deeply disturbing” that the White House chose to “sic” Mr. Garland on parents.
“Not in a million years did we dream that one day we’d see the Justice Department treat parents as domestic terrorists,” Mr. Chabot said. “Parents speaking up at a school board meeting … is clearly a First Amendment activity. … These parents have every right to be heard, even if former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe thinks otherwise. We don’t need you, your Justice Department and the FBI trampling on the rights of American parents who just want the best possible education for their children.”
Regarding the attack on the Capitol, the attorney general called it “an intolerable assault, not only on the Capitol and the brave law enforcement personnel who sought to protect it, but also on a fundamental element of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power.”
Allies of former President Trump, including Republican lawmakers, have criticized the Justice Department’s treatment of people charged with crimes in the riot.
The session is Mr. Garland’s first appearance before the committee.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, told Mr. Garland that the Jan. 6 attack is part of a “growth in extremist ideology [that] is echoed in an epidemic of violence and intimidation directed at our health care professionals, teachers, essential workers, school board members and election workers.”
“There is a broader pattern here. In each of these cases — former President Trump’s big lie, the rise in hate crimes against citizens of Asian descent, and the growing threats of violence against public servants — the same set of individuals have leveraged the same sorts of misinformation, stoked the same sorts of grievances, and shown remarkably little interest in solving our problems,” Mr. Nadler said in his opening statement.
He said Mr. Trump during his term in office “leveraged” the Justice Department to protect himself and his friends, and punish his enemies. Mr. Nadler said the attorney general must re-establish the department’s independence.
GOP lawmakers also are expected to further grill Mr. Garland on the school board memo. In it, Mr. Garland described a need to address the “disturbing spike” in threats of violence, harassment and intimidation against school officials in recent months.
His call to action came days after the NSBA sent a letter to Mr. Biden asking for federal law enforcement to investigate and prevent the threats and attacks.
“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the NSBA wrote.
The association said there have been “attacks” against school board members and educators who approved coronavirus-related mask policies and many are facing physical threats linked to the fight over teaching critical race theory in the schools.
The NSBA asked the federal government to “examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence” under the Patriot Act in regard to domestic terrorism and other federal laws.
“Citizens from across the country have provided more than 200,000 digital media tips, and the FBI continues to request the public’s assistance in identifying individuals sought in connection to the Jan. 6 attack,” he said. “And in less than 300 days, approximately 650 defendants have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for their roles in the attack.”