Attorney General Merrick Garland rejected a lawmaker’s accusation Thursday that he has a conflict of interest with his son-in-law’s work for an education firm that pushes school curricula related to critical race theory.
“There are no conflicts of interest that anyone could have,” Mr. Garland said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
But Rep. Mike Johnson, Louisiana Republican, said Mr. Garland’s impartiality is in question because the attorney general issued a memo Oct. 4 announcing that the FBI would investigate threats against school boards by parents who object to the teaching of critical race theory and other policies.
He noted that Mr. Garland’s son-in-law, Xan Tanner, co-founded Panorama Education, which he said has pushed ideas related to critical race theory and provided services to school districts across the country. The relationship has raised questions about how much Mr. Garland’s family could benefit from a crackdown on protests against school boards.
“The very basis of [parents’] objection is the curricula that your son-in-law is selling,” Mr. Johnson told the attorney general. “Why wouldn’t you submit to a simple ethics review? You are not respecting our rules. … This is a great concern.”
Mr. Johnson said federal regulations require an ethics review in cases where an official’s actions could benefit his family, “and your son-in-law clearly meets that definition.” The lawmaker said the issue is “worthy of investigation.”
Mr. Garland replied, “There’s nothing in this [Oct. 4] memorandum on the kinds of curriculum that are taught. This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence.”
Asked again whether he sought ethics guidance before issuing the memo, Mr. Garland said, “This memorandum was not related to the financial interests of anyone. This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence.”
“You don’t get to make that decision yourself,” Mr. Johnson said. “Your impartiality is being called into question.”
“I am exquisitely aware of the ethics requirements,” said Mr. Garland, a former federal judge.
“But you’re not following them,” Mr. Johnson said.
Central to critical race theory is the idea that U.S. laws and institutions are inherently racist and that Whites still oppress Blacks and other people of color more than 150 years after the end of slavery and decades after advances of the civil rights movement.
Many Republican lawmakers say this school of thought is spreading dangerously through American classrooms, workplaces and government offices. It grew out of a field called critical legal theory, which took root in the 1970s, according to the American Bar Association.