Republicans are still pounding the false message that the Justice Department targeted parents who were simply “angry” at school officials in late 2021. It’s been a major obsession for Rep. Jim Jordan, who has subpoenaed Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray to testify about it, but before Jordan could get there, Sen. John Kennedy harped on about it as he questioned Garland in a Wednesday hearing.
Garland was blunt in rejecting Kennedy’s false claim, but before he faces Jordan, he might want to get some training in getting straight to the point in highly quotable terms.
“Didn’t you understand the chilling effect that it would have to parents when you issued your directive,” Kennedy asked, “when you directed your criminal divisions and your counterterrorism divisions to investigate parents who are angry at school boards and administrators during COVID?”
“Senator, if you’d just give me a moment to put the full context, I did not do that,” Garland responded.
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That’s good, but how about just going with, “Senator, I did not do that,” and then moving on to the offer to put it in context? Or, hey, “Senator, that question is based on a falsehood. I did not do that.”
“I did not issue any memorandum directing the investigation of parents who are concerned about their children. Quite to the contrary, the memorandum that you’re talking about says at the very beginning of the memorandum that vigorous public debate is protected by the first amendment, and the kind of concerns that you’re talking about as expressed by parents are, of course, completely protected,” Garland continued. “The memorandum was aimed at violence and threats of violence against a whole host of school personnel. It was not aimed at parents making complaints to their school board. And it came in the context of a whole series of other kinds of violent threats and violence against other public officials.”
Here are the memo’s exact words:
There has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.
A few months after the memo was released, a Reuters investigation found 220 threatening messages across a sampling of counties in 15 states. We’re talking about explicit threats in many cases. Brenda Sheridan in Loudoun County, Virginia, got threats including: “Brenda, I am going to gut you like the fat f---ing pig you are when I find you.”
One of her adult children even got a letter threatening, “It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore. If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!”
This is the kind of illegal threat that Garland’s memo was about, not just “parents who are angry at school boards and administrators,” and he should say so in explicit detail.
Kennedy, of course, continued with the line of questioning, asking, “Why would the FBI open an investigation of” a Michigan mother who had merely made an “intemperate comment?” But, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, the woman Kennedy appeared to be referring to was not investigated by the FBI. Local officials reported her to the Department of Justice but the DOJ and FBI did not follow up based on those complaints, probably because they weren’t illegal threats.
Republicans aren’t going to stop lying about this. Garland is absolutely correct to set the record straight, but he should start being more forceful about it.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has thrown his hat into the ring! Gallego will try to take progressive-turned-bizarre-centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat in 2024. Today on The Brief, Markos and Rep. Gallego talk about the state of the country and his campaign, and what Americans want from the officials they elect to office.