If Attorney General Merrick Garland learned anything from his House grilling last week, you wouldn't know it by the encore. Six days after he bombed in front of the lower chamber, embarrassing himself and calling the integrity of his entire department into question, Garland didn't seem eager to change people's first impressions. His second trip to the hot seat was equally disastrous in the Senate, where anyone watching would almost certainly agree with Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.): "Thank God you're not on the Supreme Court!"
Amazingly, the firestorm leading up to Garland's Senate testimony didn't do much to chasten him. If anything, America's top law enforcer seemed even more dug in on the memo that should have cost him his job. In response to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who argued that the anti-parent missive "looks like something that would come out of a communist country," Garland only doubled down on the DOJ's attack. "I don't believe it's reasonable to read this memorandum as chilling anyone's rights about the threats of violence and it expressly recognizes the constitutional right to make arguments about your children's education."
The only thing we are concerned about, Garland went on unconvincingly, "is violence and threats of violence against school officials, school teachers, school staff. We did not sic the FBI on parents," he argued. (Well, not yet anyway.) Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), seizing on the magnitude of the order, fired back, "You're the attorney general of the United States. This was not a tweet you sent. This is a memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigation saying go investigate parents as domestic terrorists." And, as Cotton revealed on "Washington Watch," that directive wasn't just limited to the FBI -- but the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, and even the National Security Division, which, as he pointed out, are attorneys who are supposed to be handling "counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism matters."
"Why in the world would lawyers who spend their time trying to stop jihadists from attacking America or trying to track down Chinese spies be pursuing parents at school boards?" he asked indignantly. Making matters worse, Garland refused to disavow the memo -- even after the organization that triggered it, the National School Board Association, did. "I assume you're going to revoke your extremely divisive memo that you said was instigated because of that letter," Grassley said to Garland. "That's a question." The attorney general hedged, arguing that he didn't use the NSBA's language in his order. "So you're going to keep your memo going anyway?" Grassley pushed. "Is that what you're telling me?"
Like most of the senators' questions, Garland never gave a straight answer. When the Iowa senator asked if he'd even considered the "chilling effect" that unleashing the FBI on local parents might have, the attorney general testily replied that the GOP wasn't giving a "reasonable" representation of his memo. "Let the record reflect the attorney general refused to answer the question," the Republican finished.
If this wasn't a "chilling" act, Cotton said later on radio, then what is? "We received from [internal Justice] sources a memorandum with a spreadsheet full of federal crimes that parents might commit at school board meetings -- not state crimes, not disorderly conduct, not criminal threats, but federal crimes... And it specifically references -- not meetings, not consultations, not coordination -- but federal investigation and prosecution. And it attached to it, a spreadsheet listing in detail 13 federal criminal statutes that might be used to target these parents," he explained. "One of those statutes that Merrick Garland mentioned himself... says 'the use of telecommunications devices to annoy the recipient.' Think about that. If a parent or parental group posts on Facebook or other social media that they're dissatisfied with school board members and the school board members find that annoying, Merrick Garland might sic the U.S. attorney on them." We need to get to the bottom of this, he insisted, and fast.
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is already on it, demanding written answers to the questions that Garland ignored. Questions like -- who was consulted? Which White House staff was involved? And, how did the FBI respond, Blackburn wanted to know, when they should be "cracking down on Chinese espionage and [stopping] the caravans at our southern border." Just as mind-boggling, Blackburn explained on "Washington Watch," is Garland's insistence that there's "no place for violence" in this country. Fine, she said, everyone can agree with that. But how does he square that with what's happening on our city streets?
"With an open southern border, we are seeing record amounts of fentanyl and heroin and meth coming onto our nation's street. Why is the FBI not spending their time going after these cartels? Why are they not going after gang members who will actually murder people... or go around stealing and destroying property? We would like to see the FBI put some attention on that." She mentioned the mass exodus from cities like Portland and Seattle because of the record crime. Where is the attorney general's concern for that?
Instead, Democrats are upset that he hasn't done more to crack down on the January 6th rioters. And yet, when a senator pressed the attorney general about the violence of Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and all of the rioters from 2020, Garland shrugged. "That was under the previous administration," he said. Well, so was January 6th. What's the difference? The difference is that this isn't a DOJ that's interested in equal justice for all. It's a highly-politicized, hyper-partisan weapon that the president is using to punish opponents.
Garland, and the Biden administration in general, need to heed the Republicans' advice to stop the bleeding. "I suggest that you quickly change your course," Grassley admonished, "because you're losing credibility with the American people." And I pray that's not the only thing they could lose, come next November.