Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn questioned Attorney General Merrick Garland about whether or not he recognized that his Oct. 4 memo directing the FBI to meet with local law enforcement officials over potential threats directed at education officials would chill protected speech.
“Did you consider the chilling effect your memorandum might have on parents exercising their constitutional rights?” Cornyn repeatedly asked during a Wednesday Judiciary Committee hearing, saying that he was asking a “yes or no” question.
Garland dodged, claiming that his memo “recognized the right of spirited debate.”
“The only thing this memorandum is about is violence and threats of violence,” he said.
“Do you recognize the chilling effect that this sort of threat of federal prosecution would have on parents exercise their constitutional rights to be involved in their children’s education?” Cornyn pressed.
Garland sent the memo to FBI Director Christopher Wray and two senior Justice Department attorneys following a request from the National School Board Association (NSBA) that President Joe Biden consider “acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials” adjacent to “domestic terrorism.” (EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Banks Demands Explanation Of NSBA Domestic Terrorism Letter)
Garland admitted to seeing the NSBA letter before writing his memo, describing it as “part of the reason” he wrote it.
The NSBA letter, since walked back by the group, cites multiple incidents that Cornyn and Garland agreed would largely fall under the purview of state and local law enforcement officials.
Garland did note that the Justice Department has “authority with respect to the mail, with respect to the internet, with respect to the telephone—” before Cornyn cut him off.
“Let me give you an example,” Cornyn said. “If someone says to the school board member, ‘if you do that I’m going to meet you outside and punch you in the nose,’ is that a federal offense?”
“That’s not a federal offense,” Garland agreed, “and there’s nothing in this memo suggesting that it is.”
When pressed on why he did not rescind his memo after the NSBA apologized, Garland explained, “the core responsibility of the Justice Department, as I said in my opening, is protecting Americans from violence and threats of violence.”
“But you just said not every act of violence is a federal crime,” Cornyn shot back.
“We assist state and locals to help them in their investigations in these kinds of matters.”