Federal law enforcement had “no legitimate basis” for a Biden administration directive to tackle school board-related threats, according to a GOP-led “weaponization” panel.
The House Judiciary Committee and its Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government made the determination in a staff interim report unveiled on Tuesday using information Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) obtained from subpoenas sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, the Department of Education (DOE), and top officials from the National School Boards Association (NSBA).
“From the initial set of material produced in response to the subpoenas, it is apparent that the Biden Administration misused federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources for political purposes,” the report said.
At the center of the issue is a letter the NSBA sent to President Joe Biden in September 2021 seeking assistance in dealing with threats and acts of violence against public school officials. The letter compared such threats to domestic terrorism and hate crimes, which generated outrage that led to an apology from the group over its choice of language.
Still, Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memo in October 2021 sharing plans to call on the FBI, U.S. attorneys, and other federal officials to meet and strategize about addressing threats to school officers around the country.
This led to concerns, particularly among Republicans, that the Biden administration was inappropriately targeting parents speaking out at school board meetings.
The interim report found that the Justice Department’s “own documents demonstrate that there was no compelling nationwide law-enforcement justification for the Attorney General’s directive or the Department components’ execution thereof.” The report also said internal communications show “the Biden Administration and National School Boards Association extensively colluded prior to the Attorney General’s memorandum on October 4, 2021.”
Several examples are cited in the report to illustrate how, after surveying local law enforcement, U.S. Attorney’s offices “around the country reported back to Main Justice that there was no legitimate law-enforcement basis for the Attorney General’s directive to use federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources to investigate school board-related threats.”
For instance, one U.S. attorney reported that “this issue was very poorly received” by his local law enforcement community and “described by some as a manufactured issue,” according to the report. “No one I spoke with in law enforcement seemed to think that there is a serious national threat directed at school boards, which gave the impression that our priorities are misapplied,” the prosecutor added.
The interim report noted that Garland’s directive “came just weeks before a pivotal gubernatorial election in Virginia” — won by Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin — “in which education policies were hotly debated and a local school board’s actions were under intense scrutiny.”
“The inference from the initial tranche of subpoenaed documents is that the Justice Department’s actions were a reaction to these political circumstances rather than a legitimate law-enforcement response to any serious, nationwide threat,” the report added.
Garland testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee this month about the memo, denying that the Justice Department was going after parents simply voicing concerns about their children.
“The memorandum was aimed at violence and threats of violence against a whole host of school personnel” and not “aimed at parents making complaints to their school board,” Garland said. He added that the memo “came in the context of a whole series of other kinds of violent threats and violence against other public officials.”
The Judiciary panel seems unmoved, noting that Republican members have repeatedly called on Garland to rescind the memo, but to no avail.
Undergirding that disapproval, the interim report said, is the FBI sharing “for the first time” in response to a subpoena that it opened 25 “Guardian assessments” of school board threats, and “that six of these investigations were run by the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.”
The FBI uses its Guardian database system to track reports of threats that may be investigated.
“These admissions supplement whistleblower disclosures about the FBI’s actions, including disclosures the FBI investigated a mom because she belonged to a ‘right-wing mom’s group’ and ‘is a gun owner’ and a dad because ‘he rails against the government,’” the interim report said.
“According to the FBI, none of the school board-related investigations have resulted in federal arrests or charges, highlighting the political motives behind the Attorney General’s actions,” the report continued. “The Administration’s goal seems to have been silencing the critics of its radical education policies and neutralizing an issue that was threatening Democrat Party prospects in the close gubernatorial race in Virginia.”
The weaponization panel features Democratic members, but the interim report appears to only reflect the efforts of the Republicans who run it. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), who is the ranking member, recently said she believes the subcommittee is a “political stunt.”
The interim report noted that some subpoenas have yet to produce satisfactory responses and so the investigation continues. “The Committee and the Select Subcommittee will continue to pursue the relevant facts to inform legislative reforms to protect American civil liberties,” the report said.