Jordan Summons Garland and Ray Over School Board Memo
Editor’s Note: Virgin Islands MP Stacey Plaskett is the top Democrat on a judiciary subcommittee set up by the Republican Party to study the “arming” of the federal government. The information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.
The House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), initiated its first subpoenas against three Biden administration officials, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, over a short-lived memo alleging threats against school board members.
Subpoenas also sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardone followed a series of more than 100 2021 memo letters from Judicial Republicans.
Garland signed the memorandum last October, noting “an alarming surge in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff” amid a wider discussion of COVID-19 policy and how issues such as race and gender resolved at school.
Although the memorandum did little, Republicans remain focused on it.
The subpoena, reviewed by The Hill, solicits all communications between the organizations and the National Association of School Boards, which first wrote to the Justice Department asking for help in dealing with the growing threats.
Jordan has repeatedly said the memo is a way for the Biden administration to brand parents as domestic terrorists, though the FBI has never charged any parent in connection with the directive — as the chairman pointed out in a recent NBC Meet the Press appearance. ”
“The chilling effect of the First Amendment on free speech is something that worries us,” he said during an interview.
“The school board is writing a letter on September 29th. Five days later, the Attorney General of the United States sends a memo to 101 US Attorney’s Offices across the country saying, “Set up this line so they can report it.” … When have you ever seen the federal government act so quickly?” he asked.
Democrats immediately opposed the initiative, accusing Jordan of spreading conspiracy theories in an attack on the Justice Department’s short-lived efforts to respond to violent threats.
“The conspiracy theories at the heart of today’s agendas have been debunked time after time, but Republicans don’t want to be bothered by this inconvenient truth. There aren’t enough documents to satisfy MAGA’s obsession with conspiracies,” said del Stacey Plaskett (VI), a top Democrat on a judiciary subcommittee set up by the Republican Party to study the federal government’s weaponization.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Friday, but Garland and Ray had previously answered numerous questions about the matter during speeches before Congress — as pointed out by the FBI, refuting claims it did not respond to Jordan.
“As Principal Wray and other FBI officials have made clear on numerous occasions before Congress and elsewhere, the FBI has never been involved in investigating or monitoring speech at school board meetings or anywhere else, and we never will be. Our focus is and always will be on protecting people from violence and threats of violence,” the agency said in a statement.
“We are fully committed to preserving and protecting First Amendment rights, including the right to free speech. Attempts to promote any political narrative will not change these facts.”
The memo became a headache for the Department of Justice and the National Association of School Boards shortly after it was published.
The group sent a letter to the White House a week before Garland’s memo was released outlining a series of incidents at recent school board meetings, noting that some of the threats “may be the equivalent of a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
The ensuing political storm caused the National Association of School Boards to issue a statement saying its members “regret and apologize for the letter”.
“Some of the language included in the letter was not justified. We should have had a better process to allow consultations on messages of this magnitude,” the group wrote later that month.
Jordan suggested that the Biden administration was coordinating with the National Association of School Boards to develop policy, accusing them without evidence in a previous Fox News appearance of encouraging “an excuse to harass parents.”
The initial letter from the National Association of School Boards mentions a meeting with the White House and the Department of Education, and asks the Department of Justice to consider whether the threats may violate a number of different federal laws.
However, the DOJ memo fell far short of what the group had asked for, emphasizing “coordination and partnership” with local law enforcement regarding any legal review.
“While I am disappointed that Republicans have resorted to such aggressive arm-twisting and performative politics, I am confident that what they have asked for will once again refute this hackneyed right-wing theory,” Plaskett said in a statement.
Jordan’s numerous previous letters in a memo from the school board came after he pledged to actively monitor the matter, a stance he reinforced by following at least a few days after the committee was formally formed.
The Department of Education said it responded to Jordan’s request for information just a day before the subpoena was served.
“The ministry responded to a letter from Chairman Jordan earlier this week. The Department remains ready to respond to requests from the House Judiciary Committee in accordance with longstanding executive branch policy,” the statement said.
The move was condemned by Democrats, who noted that Jordan did not respond to a subpoena sent to him by the House Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack.
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“Chair Jordan is in a hurry to send a subpoena just two days after the Judiciary Committee was organized, although the agencies have already responded in good faith to the requests he made,” White House oversight spokesman Ian Sams said.
“These subpoenas make it abundantly clear that the extreme Republicans in the House of Representatives are not interested in working with the Biden administration on behalf of the American people – and are interested in staging political tricks in every possible way.”
— Updated at 17:51. Contributed by Lexi Lonas.
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