A watchdog group alleging the Justice Department’s controversial targeting of parents for speaking up on local school matters was a “White House priority” now seeks more information about Attorney General Merrick Garland and his son-in-law’s company to shed light on a potential conflict of interest.
Garland, picked by President Joe Biden to lead the Justice Department, issued an Oct. 4 memo directing the FBI to address “violent threats against school officials and teachers.”
Garland’s son-in-law is an executive with Panorama Education, a Boston-based company that says it works with school boards to promote “culturally responsive training” and other ideas associated with critical race theory, a teaching that many public school parents oppose.
The company’s website says it was founded by “student activists” and adds: “Panorama’s mission is to radically improve education for every student.”
America First Legal Foundation, a group of former Trump administration officials, requested public records Wednesday from the Justice Department, including all financial disclosure documents from Garland and records referring to the attorney general’s son-in-law, Alexander Tanner, and Panorama Education.
Teaching critical race theory, promoting gender ideology, and mandating masks and other COVID-19 measures in public schools are among flashpoint issues for parents at local school board meetings across the United States.
The Garland memo followed a Sept. 29 letter from the National School Boards Association to Biden, asking the federal government to use the Patriot Act and other laws to prosecute threats to school officials from parents whom the association identified as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“There are a number of tells for anyone who has spent time working in the Justice Department and participating in the intra- and interagency clearance process,” Reed Rubinstein, senior counselor and director of oversight and investigations for America First Legal Foundation, told The Daily Signal.
“Less than five days elapsed between the alleged transmission date of the school boards association letter and the Oct. 4 memo [from Garland],” Rubinstein said Wednesday. “If the process was not prebaked, then this whole thing came down at warp speed.”
America First Legal Foundation has a three-step strategy in opposing the Justice Department’s targeting of school parents, said Rubinstein, a former Trump appointee in the Justice, Treasury, and Agriculture departments.
The first step came with an earlier request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking public records on the Garland memo, such as who reviewed it, along with any Justice Department records supporting the Garland memo’s claims of a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
The foundation’s second step was a request to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate whether Biden aides pushed Garland to issue the memo targeting parents.
The third step was the request Wednesday for public records relating to Garland and Panorama Education, his son-in-law’s employer. The letter asks for “All public financial disclosure reports” for Garland; “all records mentioning or referring to Alexander Tanner”; and “all records mentioning or referring to Panorama.”
The same public records request also asks for “communications between the department and any person with an email containing eop.who.gov”—the email address for officials working in the executive office of the president—regarding Garland, Tanner, and Panorama.
Timeline: White House Discusses ‘Action Against Parents’
America First Legal Foundation is run by Stephen Miller, a former White House adviser to Donald Trump.
The watchdog group alleged in its letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general that Biden White House officials coordinated with Justice Department officials to recruit an outside group to ask for investigations and prosecutions of parents who object to local school boards’ policies.
The letter states that career employees at the Justice Department pushed back on the attorney general’s memorandum about parents who speak out at school board meetings, but political appointees asserted that the policy was a “White House priority.”
America First Legal seeks to show that the National School Boards Association, which sent the Sept. 29 letter to Biden, is that cooperative outside group, rather than widely known political players such as the National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers, the two major national teachers unions.
The group’s letter to the Justice Department inspector general requesting an investigation of what happened, signed by Rubinstein, lays out an elaborate timeline that includes the involvement of White House officials.
“In early September, Biden administration stakeholders held discussions regarding avenues for potential federal action against parents with a key Biden Domestic Policy Council official (Jane Doe #1) and White House staff (John Doe #1),” America First Legal’s letter to the inspector general says.
The letter continues:
Stakeholders also held discussions with senior [Justice] Department officials, including at least one political appointee in the department’s Civil Rights Division (Jane Doe #2). Jane Doe #1, John Doe #1, and others in the White House separately expressed concern regarding the potential partisan political impact of parent mobilization and organization around school issues in the upcoming midterm elections.
Biden’s ‘Totally Independent’ Pledge
Biden repeatedly has promised that in his administration, the Justice Department would not make prosecutorial decisions based on partisan politics.
As a candidate for president in 2020, Biden said his Justice Department would be “totally independent” and that he would “not direct them who to prosecute, what to prosecute, how to prosecute.”
Biden also vowed: “I would have an attorney general who understood his oath of office.”
About one month after the election, Biden said: “Our Justice Department is going to operate independently on those issues, how to respond to any of that. I am not going to be telling them what they have to do and don’t have to do. I am not going to be saying, go prosecute A, B, or C.”
During a phone interview, Rubinstein did not reveal the source of the timeline details in his letter to the inspector general.
“The letter,” he said, “speaks for itself at this point.”
The White House, the Justice Department, and the National School Boards Association did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Signal for comment on this report.
Rubinstein said that if staff of the White House Domestic Policy Council in fact coordinated in advance with the Justice Department, and the National School Boards Association’s letter to Biden was merely a “strawman or pretext,” that would “certainly suggest improper considerations were involved in [Garland’s] Oct. 4 memorandum, at a minimum.”
Rubinstein’s letter asserts that an “outside group” that would not be the “usual suspects” should request federal action against protesting school parents.
“Upon information and belief, at the express direction of or with the express consent of Jane Doe #1,” his letter to the Justice Department inspector general says, “Jane Doe #2 and other Biden administration officials developed a plan to use a letter from an outside group (‘not the usual suspects’) as pretext for federal action to chill, deter, and discourage parents from exercising their constitutional rights and privileges.”
America First Legal’s complaint suggests that the White House and others recruited the National School Boards Association to write the letter to Biden as a pretext for the Garland policy despite pushback from career Justice Department lawyers.
The letter says:
Upon information and belief, in or about mid-September work began on development of what became the attorney general’s memorandum. Concerns expressed by department staff included (1) the absence of federal law enforcement nexus and authority, and (2) the constitutionally protected nature of parent protests. However, Jane Doe #2 made it clear this was a White House priority and a deliverable would be created.
Rubinstein noted that the language of the National School Boards Association’s letter to the president seemed to repeat Biden administration talking points, for example, reflecting its language on domestic terrorism and undefined “misinformation.”
“The letter from the school boards [association] certainly mirrors language used by the Biden administration, including in its ‘domestic terrorism’ strategy document,” Rubinstein told The Daily Signal.
“That document revolves around using federal law enforcement and intelligence assets to combat ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation,’ without defining what those terms mean or disclosing who will decide what is, or is not, misinformation and disinformation in any given case,” he said. “And surprise, surprise, the word misinformation shows up front and center in the school boards [association’s] letter.”
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