Senate Republicans repeatedly questioned Deputy Attorney General (AG) Lisa Monaco about a memorandum written by Attorney General Merrick Garland regarding law enforcement responses to alleged harassment toward public education officials.
During a hearing originally scheduled to discuss amendments to the Violence Against Women Act, Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley repeatedly quizzed Monaco about the memo, which was sent to law enforcement officers and district attorneys Monday night. Garland wrote that the Justice Department “is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage … harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
He added that he would direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to “convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district” to discuss responses to alleged violence and threats.
Garland did not specify any examples of misconduct that he believed federal officials should investigate.
Cotton cited a letter sent by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to President Joe Biden on Sept. 29 requesting that the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and Department of Education employ measures such as the PATRIOT Act in response to alleged threats and acts of violence against public school officials. The letter cites mask mandates and critical race theory as the main issues leading to disputes. (RELATED: National School Board Association Calls On The Biden Admin To Police Parents Using Domestic Terror Laws)
“The association is asking the administration to use the PATRIOT Act, a law that this Congress passed and has repeatedly reauthorized, primarily to stop the threat of Islamic Jihadists, to bring criminal charges for domestic terrorism against parents who attend school boards to oppose things like Critical Race Theory or mask mandates resulting in a recess being called. Ms. Monaco is it domestic extremism for a parent to advocate for their child’s best interests?” Cotton asked.
“What you have described, no I would not describe as domestic extremism,” Monaco responded after initially dodging the question.
“The school board association just sent this letter to President Biden and then conveniently the attorney general released his letter yesterday describing his ‘series of measures’ to confront this grave and growing threat of parents protesting their kids being indoctrinated and the school board having to call a recess. Is there any connection between those two things?” Cotton continued.
Monaco denied any connection between the NSBA letter and Garland’s memo, claiming that the memo was sent “to address threats, to address violence, and to address law enforcement issues … which is the job of the Justice Department.”
Hawley described the memo as “extraordinary,” saying that it was an example of the Biden “administration weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to go after its political opponents.”
“Are you aware of any time in American history when an attorney general has directed the FBI to intervene in school board meetings?” he asked.
“That is not going on. Let me be very, very clear,” Monaco responded. “The memorandum is quite clear, it’s one page, and it asks the U.S. attorney community and FBI special agents-in-charge to convene state and local law enforcement partners to ensure that there’s an open line of communication to address threats, to address violence, and that’s the appropriate role of the Department of Justice, to make sure that we are addressing criminal conduct and violence.”
“At local school board meetings?” Hawley shot back. “Is parents waiting, sometimes for hours, to speak at a local school board meeting to express concerns about critical race theory or the masking of their students, particularly young children, is that in and of itself harassment?”
“As the attorney general’s memorandum made quite clear, spirited debate is welcome, is a hallmark of this country. It’s something we all should engage in —” Monaco started to answer before Hawley cut her off.
“With all due respect Ms. Monaco, it did not make it quite clear, it does not define those terms, nor does it define harassment or intimidation,” he said. “It talks about violence, I think we can agree that violence shouldn’t be condoned or looked aside from in any way, swept under the rug at all. Harassment and intimidation, what do those terms mean in the context of a local school board meeting?”
“If this isn’t a deliberate attempt to chill parents from showing up at school board meetings, to their elected school board, I don’t know what is,” Hawley continued. “You’re using the FBI to intervene in school board meetings.”
“Senator I have to respectfully disagree,” Monaco answered. “The attorney general’s memorandum made quite clear that violence is not appropriate. Spirited public debate on a whole range of issues is absolutely what this country is all about. When and if any situation turns to violence, then that is the appropriate role of law enforcement, to address it.”
Later in the hearing, Monaco denied “any foundation to” Hawley’s allegations during questioning from Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons.
Hawley “accused the attorney general and the administration of an unprecedented level of FBI harassment and intimidation of citizens at school board meetings,” Coons said.