Hawley, Cotton grill DOJ official on memo targeting threats against teachers, school board members

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Sen. Josh Hawley grills DOJ official on memo targeting threats, school board members

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco appears before Senate Judiciary Committee

Republican senators challenged Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on a new memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland to Justice Department employees that discussed federal intervention in state and local school board meetings.

The memo condemned violence against officials, and while the GOP senators agreed with that sentiment, they expressed concern over other language Garland used in reference to “intimidation” and “harassment” that they worried was vague and problematic for potentially leading to First Amendment infringements.

“Tell me where the line is with parents expressing their concerns,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said, questioning what sort of behavior might warrant federal intervention.

Hawley, who called the memo “wrong” and “dangerous,” said that parents sometimes wait for hours to ask questions about school policies regarding mask wearing and critical race theory. He asked what the DOJ’s memo means when it refers to harassment and intimidation, claiming that these are vague terms that will have a chilling effect on school board meeting participation.

The senator asked if Monaco was aware of any time in American history when the FBI was getting involved in school board meetings.

“That is not going on,” she replied.

Monaco said that the attorney general’s memo clearly stated that violence is inappropriate but “spirited debate” is permitted.

Earlier in the hearing, however, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., noted that Garland’s memo came days after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden asking the administration to look into using the PATRIOT Act against domestic terrorism as well as other measures to combat what it said were “threats or actual acts of violence against our school districts.”

In discussing past instances, the NSBA did reference a number of cases of violence, but it also cited an instance when someone “prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory,” and referred to how in states including New Jersey and Ohio, “anti-mask proponents are inciting chaos during board meetings.”

“Is it domestic extremism for a parent to advocate for their child’s best interests?” Cotton asked.

NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven called Garland’s memo “a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students, and communities they serve.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who did not get to ask questions during the hearing, approached Monaco after it had ended. Their conversation was caught on camera.

“The  implication of all of this is you all expect parents that do not take the progressive agenda to be violent,” Blackburn said, stating that “it’s not always what you say it’s what people perceive that you are saying.”

“The message that you are sending to parents, to individuals is you take everything that we say or we’re not going to be able to protect you,” Blackburn added, “and I think that that is a very dangerous place to be.”

“I hear you on the misperception,” Monaco said, but she insisted that the FBI would only be investigating crimes, and that the memo is “about violence, and that’s it.”

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