Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

World News

The GOP’s tortured spin on DOJ and school boards

Republicans have signaled that their crusade against a supposedly “weaponized” federal government will focus, early on, on the Justice Department and school boards. Specifically, they’ll probe the Justice Department’s purported targeting of parents.

But this effort has long involved vast amounts of political spin and butchering the available evidence. And their characterizations of the facts that underlie the situation are getting no better; they might be getting worse.

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) used his time at a hearing Wednesday to question Attorney General Merrick Garland in what became a rather tense exchange about the matter.

The thrust of his questions will be familiar to those who have tracked the situation.

“Didn’t you understand the chilling effect that it would have to parents when you directed your criminal divisions and your counterterrorism divisions to investigate parents who are angry at school boards and administrators during covid?” Kennedy asked.

The claim echoes one made regularly by Republicans after the Justice Department issued its directive on threats against school boards in October 2021. However, that directive made no mention of investigating parents who were angry or merely protesting — only those who engaged in “violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation and harassment.” All of those, The Post’s Fact Checker noted, are crimes.

“I did not do that,” Garland responded to Kennedy. He pointed out that the announcement came at a time when a significant number of such threats were being aimed at public officials. (Reuters in early 2022 documented more than 200 such threats to school officials.)

Kennedy then turned to a letter the National School Boards Association sent to the Biden administration in September 2021.

Republicans have focused on how the letter suggested that parents making threats were engaging in potential “domestic terrorism.” This — combined with how the letter was handled — drew some state school board associations to leave the NSBA, and the NSBA apologized for and withdrew that language. Garland has emphasized he didn’t use such language and that he disagreed with it.

But Kennedy sought to tie the letter to the Justice Department. “And your employees helped them write the letter … and the White House helped them write that letter, didn’t they?” Kennedy charged.

Garland again took exception: “I have no knowledge about that, but certainly I don’t know anything about my employees helping write that letter.”

Internal emails and an independent investigation commissioned by the NSBA last year show the association had been in touch with the White House in the prior weeks and edited the letter after the White House requested information on specific threats. The Education Department had also requested such information.

But the investigation report states: “Counsel did not find direct or indirect evidence suggesting the Administration requested the Letter or specified, edited, or reviewed the contents of the Letter before the Letter was sent, or otherwise specifically requested that it be written.”

Kennedy nonetheless proceeded to repeat the charge that the administration had helped write the letter and that it was intended to launch investigations of “parents who were angry.” Garland again took exception.

Moving on to another topic, Kennedy claimed that “you set up a website and a hotline to report parents.”

Garland cut in and responded: “We didn’t set up a specific hotline about this.”

Kennedy appeared to be referring to the National Threat Operations Center, which is mentioned in the Justice Department’s 2021 memo. But the center isn’t specific to this topic, and it was overhauled in 2018 after the Parkland school massacre — years before the memo.

Kennedy then cited a tip to the “hotline” from a state Democratic Party official that, in Kennedy’s words, “some Republicans were inciting violence by expressing public displeasure with school districts’ vaccine mandates.” He said this led to an investigation.

This comes from a May 2022 letter to Garland from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Johnson (R-La.). The complaint wasn’t detailed further in the letter, but elsewhere the House Judiciary Committee has stated that the Democratic official cited not just an expression of displeasure with vaccine mandates, but an “online terroristic threat by politicians against school board members.” It’s simply very difficult to evaluate the substance of the claim, given the available evidence.

Kennedy then brought up a case involving a mother in Michigan. He said she had made an “intemperate comment” in an email, comparing school board members to Nazis. He asked Garland, “Why would the FBI open an investigation of her?”

Kennedy appeared to be referring to Sandra Hernden. Local officials reported her to her employer and the Justice Department, and she has filed a lawsuit against the school board and school officials. But local media reported, “The DOJ never approached Hernden about the email.” Hernden’s lawsuit makes no mention of any actual investigative steps by the Justice Department.

Finally, Kennedy turned to so-called “threat tags” that he accused Garland of “directing” his employees to use in such cases.

Garland said he did not issue such a directive and that such tags are used by the FBI for various types of alleged threats — not just those involving school board members, but also others such as Supreme Court justices.

“A threat tag on a parent for being concerned at a school board meeting?” Kennedy summarized, again obviating the distinction between protesting and threatening.

This question echoes claims that Jordan and House Judiciary Committee Republicans have put out there. But PolitiFact found in late 2021 that there was “no evidence to suggest that FBI personnel were instructed to use the … threat tag on investigations of any parents for simply protesting against a school board.”

When Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) offered a similar claim last month, PolitiFact asked his office for evidence to back it up. Perry’s office offered no response.

The Washington Post has also contacted Kennedy’s office seeking comment, and evidence for his claims. It has yet to respond.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

You May Also Like

Editor's Pick

Building a bridge is costly: It takes labor and machinery and raw materials that have alternative uses. Does it follow that building it is...


Starbucks’ new line of olive oil-infused coffee drinks could disrupt the industry, interim CEO Howard Schultz told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on Tuesday. “This is a...

Editor's Pick

This past week, our Daily content proved itself invaluable. We directed our readers to look at buying Natural Gas, Crude Oil, Steel, Aluminum, Corn,...

Editor's Pick

I've often drawn attention here to the virtues of the Canadian banking system, especially as it was between the passage of Canada's first Bank...