Senate Judiciary Republicans widened their inquiry into the Justice Department’s memo on policing school-board meetings to include the Education Department, citing the recent release of an internal email indicating a link to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
In a pair of Tuesday letters to the Justice and Education departments, the 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked for information on the events leading up to the Sept. 29 letter from the National School Boards Association that triggered Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4 memo.
“This is extremely concerning to us,” the Republicans’ letter to Mr. Cardona said.
“It appears that you, the Secretary of Education, instructed a trade association to write a letter to the President of the United States so that the Attorney General might have the requisite cover to deploy federal law enforcement in a manner so as to scare American parents out of speaking freely at school-board meetings and petitioning their local governments,” it said.
The Education Department denied last week that Mr. Cardona solicited the NSBA letter, contradicting an internal email obtained by Parents Defending Education in which NSBA board member Kristi Swett said that the letter came in response to “a request from Secretary Cordona [sic].”
“While the secretary did not solicit a letter from NSBA, to understand the views and concerns of stakeholders, the department routinely engages with students, teachers, parents, district leaders and education associations,” an Education Department spokesperson said in a Jan. 11 statement.
In their letter, however, the Senate Republicans said the email “indicates that you asked NSBA personnel to send a letter to President Biden, a letter that White House staff also helped put together and asks for the PATRIOT Act to be used against American parents.”
Mr. Garland directed the FBI and other DOJ divisions, including the National Security Division, to address “an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers.”
Republicans have accused Mr. Garland of targeting rowdy parents at school-board meetings upset about issues such as critical-race theory and mask mandates, noting that the NSBA correspondence compared the situation to domestic terrorism.
The Senate Republicans have written twice to Mr. Garland about the memo. Last month, they asked him to withdraw the memo, which he has not done.
In their Tuesday letter to Mr. Garland, the Republicans told him that “by involving the National Security Division and the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI in local matters, you have created widespread fear that the national security apparatus of the United States is keeping tabs on them.”
The attorney general has denied siccing the department on parents, saying that the memo’s focus was on threats of violence and criminal conduct, not free speech.
The NSBA board of directors disavowed the memo in an Oct. 25 statement after a backlash from state chapters, saying there was “no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”
On Friday, 27 Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent a letter to Mr. Cardona demanding that he explain his or his staff’s role in the NSBA letter.