- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2023

FBI officials were seemingly blindsided by Attorney General Merrick Garland’s 2021 memo directing federal law enforcement resources to be trained on parents who protested against local school officials, newly obtained documents show.

An email chain from Oct. 4, 2021, the day Mr. Garland issued the now-infamous memo, reveals that some senior officials were not on board with the directive and pushed for the Department of Justice to reconsider.

“Making sure you all saw this from today,” wrote FBI Counterterrorism Division Assistant Director Timothy Langan. “I’m trying to track down additional on this from today.”

A senior FBI attorney chimed in minutes later, noting that the memo had just been brought to his attention, adding: “I hope DOJ reconsiders.”

Another employee wrote in a follow-up email that the Office of General Counsel “is going to engage with [the Office of the Deputy Attorney General] to request that it be reworded.”

In response, an employee from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys copied USAEO Director Monty Wilkinson on the email chain, writing: “It’s too little too late.”

The emails, which were released on Thursday, were first obtained this week by America First Legal in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request submitted days after the memo was issued.

The revelations echo a House Judiciary Committee report issued earlier this week that concluded the  Biden administration had “no legitimate basis” to deploy federal counterterrorism resources against parents.

Citing a trove of recently obtained documents, lawmakers behind Judiciary’s weaponization subcommittee probe into the controversial memo said the Biden administration “misused federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources for political purposes.”

“The Justice Department’s own documents demonstrate that there was no compelling nationwide law-enforcement justification for the Attorney General’s directive or the Department components’ execution thereof,” the interim report reads.

The panel released documents on Tuesday that show “strong negative reactions” to Mr. Garland’s memo by local law enforcement officials days after it was issued.

Several U.S. Attorneys reported back to Justice Department headquarters with objections from their local law enforcement counterparts on issues involving local school board meetings in the weeks following the memo.

William Ihlenfeld II, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, wrote in a report to Justice headquarters that there had been “a handful” of local school board meetings where attendees had “been boisterous and disruptive,” but that those incidents should be handled by local police.

U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft of the Southern District of Illinois reported that Mr. Garland’s memo was “very poorly received” among local law enforcement officials, some of whom described the threats outlined in the memo as “a manufactured issue.”

“No one I spoke with in law enforcement seemed to think that there is a serious national threat directed at school boards, which gave the impression that our priorities are misapplied,” Mr. Weinhoeft reported to DOJ headquarters.

“Some expressed concerns that the federal government was meddling in an area where it does not belong,” he wrote.

Despite the lack of a compelling need for federal resources, the FBI acknowledged to the House panel that it opened 25 threat assessments, known as “Guardian assessments,” in response to concerns raised over threats against school boards, six of which were conducted by the FBI Counterterrorism Division.

“These admissions supplement whistleblower disclosures about the FBI’s actions, including disclosures the FBI investigated a mom because she belonged to a ‘right-wing mom’s group’ and ‘is a gun owner’ and a dad because ‘he rails against the government,’” the committee said in Tuesday’s report.

None of those investigations have resulted in federal arrests or charges, the panel said in the report.

Mr. Garland issued his memo ordering the Justice Department to sniff out “threats” against school boards in response to a letter from the National School Boards Association demanding that federal authorities crack down on parents who, according to the school boards group, were becoming upset at local school board meetings. Among some of the issues generating heated criticism were concerns about the teaching of critical race theory, masks in schools, and requirements for COVID-19 vaccines and testing.

Lawmakers on the House panel accused the White House and the Education and Justice departments of coordinating among themselves and with the NSBA before the release of the memo.

The report claims that Chip Slaven, interim director and CEO of the NSBA, emailed the NSBA’s letter to the White House and Department of Education before it was released publicly.

In an email to Biden administration officials, Mr. Slaven outlined his specific request that “federal law enforcement and relevant agencies work with state and local authorities and public schools to address these ongoing threats.”

Documents released in Tuesday’s report also show that the NSBA coordinated with the DOJ before the release of Mr. Garland’s memo.

In an email to Mr. Slaven before the memo’s release, Alivia Roberts from the DOJ’s Public Affairs office thanked the NSBA for raising its concerns.

“We hope to continue this dialogue as this is a very important issue the department is committed to addressing,” Ms. Roberts wrote.

Mr. Slaven replied that the NSBA “stand[s] ready to work with you on efforts going forward. Please let us [know] how we can support your efforts.”

The DOJ, NSBA, White House, and Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.

The lawmakers behind the report accused the Biden administration of attempting to silence critics of “its radical education policies.”

Mr. Garland says he did not order parents investigated for expressing concern over their children’s education. He said he intended to root out “violence and threats of violence against a whole host of school personnel.”

He acknowledged he was prompted “in part” by the NSBA letter, but said he was also reacting to news reports about violence.

“Nothing in my memorandum says to investigate parents who are angry, quite the opposite. It says that the First Amendment protects that kind of vigorous debate,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month. “The only thing we wanted was for an assessment to be made out in the field about whether federal assistance was needed to prevent violence and threats of violence.”

Lawmakers on the House weaponization panel aren’t buying the explanation and have committed to continuing the probe “until all responsive documents are produced and interviews with the necessary parties take place.”

“Americans deserve to have confidence that the enormous power and reach of federal law enforcement will be used fairly and free of any indication of politicization,” the report reads. “The Committee’s and the Select subcommittee’s work is not complete.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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