During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) excoriated Attorney General Merrick Garland, telling him, “thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, Judge.”
The attorney general was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in an oversight hearing of the Department of Justice.
Cotton erupted after Garland had provided unsatisfactory answers in response to a series questions about his controversial October 4 memo.
In his now infamous memo, the attorney general directed the FBI to monitor school board meetings nationwide for “threats of violence.” The memo was issued at the urging of a the NSBA, left-wing school board association that referred to parents as potential domestic terrorists.
The senator revealed during the bombshell hearing that he had heard numerous complaints about Garland’s memo from FBI officials, and had recently learned that a U.S. attorney had issued a letter to law enforcement officials all across the country, directing them to launch federal investigations and prosecutions against school board protesters.
Cotton grilled Garland on what he called his “outrageous directive siccing the feds on schoolboards across America.”
“When you crafted that October 4 memo, did you consult with senior leadership at the FBI?” Cotton asked.
“My understanding was that the memo, or the idea of the memo was discussed with the FBI,” Garland replied.
Cotton then asked the attorney general if anyone at the FBI had expressed doubt or disagreement with the memo.
“No one expressed that to me,” Garland replied.
“No one?!” Cotton exclaimed.
“To me,” Garland clarified. “No one expressed that to me.”
Cotton told him that his office had heard from “a lot” of FBI officials who told them they opposed the DOJ’s decision to put out the memo.
“Well, I doubt any of them spoke to me about it,” Garland shot back defensively.
Cotton accused Garland of “repeatedly dissembling” about the directive, specifically about the DOJ’s plan to set up a national security task force to deal with school board protests across the country.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) had earlier pressed Garland about his decision to involve the DOJ’s national security division to intimidate parents at school board meetings.
“Your memo mentions that the national security division will get involved in school board investigations. Is the Justice Department national security division really necessary for keeping local school boards safe if parents aren’t domestic terrorists?” the Iowa Republican asked. “Why is the national security division involved at all? This kind of looks like something that would come out of some communist country.”
Garland sheepishly responded with the same talking point he used last week with House Republicans, claiming the action is focused on “violence and threats of violence.” House Judiciary Republicans last week called on Garland to rescind the memo, arguing that “local law enforcement—and not the FBI—are the appropriate authorities to address any local threats or violence.”
He has refused to rescind the memo, or to disavow the involvement of federal law enforcement in local issues.
When questioned by another Republican senator earlier in the hearing Wednesday, the attorney general claimed that his memo did not call for the National Security Division to target parents, rather, he said that directive had come from a memo from another office.
Cotton refuted this claim, saying, “it wasn’t another office’s memorandum judge, it was in a press release from your office—right here in front of me dated October 4, 2021 for immediate release.”
The DOJ press release stated: “According to the Attorney General’s memorandum, the Justice Department will launch a series of additional efforts in the coming days designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
Those efforts are expected to include the creation of a task force, consisting of representatives from the department’s Criminal Division, National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the Community Relations Service and the Office of Justice Programs, to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes.
“What on earth does the National Security Division have to do with parents who are expressing disagreements at school boards?” Cotton demanded.
Garland said that nothing in his memorandum, or any memorandum is about “parents expressing disagreements with their school board.
“The memorandum makes clear that parents are entitled and protected by the First Amendment to have vigorous debates,” the AG replied.
Cotton insisted that Garland answer his question as to why the DOJ was getting the National Security Division involved in local school board issues.
“These are the people who are supposed to be chasing jihadists and Chinese spies. What does the National Security Division have to do with parents at school boards?” he asked.
Garland insisted that the memo was not targeting parents at school boards, but about “threats of violence.”
Cotton astutely pointed out that Garland was repeating the phrase “threats of violence” over and over, but neglecting to mention the words, “harassment and intimidation,” which were also in the first line of his memo.
Those words, as Cotton noted, can have a broad interpretation under the law, including just annoying a school board member in a Facebook post.
The senator also took issue with Garland’s contention that his memo was only about “meetings and coordination.”
“Well I have in my hand right here, that I’ll submit for the record, a letter from one of your U.S. attorneys to all of the county attorneys, attorneys general, to all sheriffs, and the school board association in his state, in which he talks about federal investigation and prosecution. It’s not about meetings. It’s not about meetings. It’s about federal investigations and prosecution.
“Did you direct your U.S. attorneys to issue such a letter?” Cotton demanded.
Garland seemed surprised by this.
“I did not. I have not seen that letter,” he said, looking down.
“It’s got three pages!” Cotton exclaimed, “A spreadsheet with all the federal crimes that a parent can be charged with to include the ones you cited.”
As Garland continued to stammer, Cotton demanded again: “Did Main Justice make this spreadsheet, judge?
Garland said he had no idea, and could only speak to his own memorandum, which only mentioned setting up meetings.
Cotton asked Garland if he had set up any kind of federal response to recent threats or harassment of sitting members of Congress, like Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema who was harassed by left-wing protesters in a public restroom.
Garland said that he didn’t know if Sinema had referred the matter to the Justice Department or not.
Cotton then asked if the directive had been created before or after the National School Board Association’s letter to the Biden White House, that cited Loudoun County parent Scott Smith as a domestic terrorist.
When Garland said that to his knowledge his directive came after, Cotton erupted.
“You keep citing the school board letter, and news reports—news reports!” he exclaimed. “One of the news reports cited in that letter, which you presumably mean, is from Loudoun County Virginia,” Cotton said.
Garland, knowing where Cotton was going, frantically objected.
“No! That’s not what I was talking about,” he insisted.
But Cotton pressed on: “That news reports refers to Scott Smith, whose 15-year-old daughter was raped! She was raped in a bathroom by a boy wearing girl’s clothes, and the Loudoun County School Board covered it up because it would have interfered with their transgender policy during Pride Month,” he exclaimed.
“And that man, Scott Smith, because he went to the school board, and tried to defend his daughter’s rights, was condemned internationally. Do you apologize to Scott Smith and his 15-year-old daughter, judge?” Cotton asked.
Garland responded by saying that the rape of a daughter is “one of the most horrific crimes” he could imagine, and the father was certainly entitled by the First Amendment to protest in front of the school board about that.
Cotton reminded Garland that the school board association described Smith as a domestic terrorist.
“We now know that letter, and those reports were the basis for your directive,” the senator cried. “Judge, this is shameful. This testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful!”
He added disdainfully: “Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, Judge.”
In a second round of questioning, Cotton demanded to know how it was possible that the DOJ was able to respond so quickly to the NSBA’s letter, noting that it took only four days from the time the school board association issued their letter—and two of those days were weekend days—and the time Garland signed his directive.
“Chuck Grassley pointed out that you have not responded to two letters of his, that have been outstanding for months,” Cotton noted. “How was it that the Department of Justice was able to move so rapidly on a single letter from a special interest group that has now repudiated that letter, said it regrets sending the letter, and apologized to its members for sending the letter. How did your department move so fast on this matter?” he demanded.
Garland began to argue that the matter was a priority because “the organization represents thousands of school boards …”
But Cotton interrupted to say, “purports to represent thousands because state school boards across the country have been repudiating them, and trying to withdraw their membership. That’s why The National School Board Association withdrew its own letter.”
Garland’s response was amazing. He said that the DOJ acted quickly because there were reports of threats of violence, and they “couldn’t wait until somebody dies” purportedly at a school board meeting.
Cotton went on to ask Garland specifically, if the memo was a product of Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, an Obama loyalist who has a history of weaponizing her authority against political foes.
Monaco, as American Greatness’ Julie Kelly explained here, “played a key role in perpetuating the myth about Russian collusion both before and after the 2016 election. The former chief of staff to Robert Mueller when he headed Obama’s FBI and then Obama’s homeland security advisor, Monaco has been a harsh critic of Trump and Republican policies over the past four years. She backs a “whole of government” approach to combating domestic terrorists, code for Americans who support Donald Trump.”
Cotton got Garland to admit that he did not write the first draft of the memo, although he insisted he did work on it.
“It represents my views, and it represents my reading of the materials,” Garland said, before Cotton interrupted to ask him if the memo had come from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta’s office, another left-wing Obama loyalist.
Garland refused to answer, saying he would not discuss the innerworkings of the Justice Department, and again declared that the memo reflects his views, and he stands behind it.