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Senators have heated exchanges with AG Garland over DOJ school board memo

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At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz blasted Attorney General Merrick Garland for a Department of Justice memo that directed the DOJ to assist local law enforcement to address violence and threats of violence directed at local school officials across the country. Garland stood by his memo, and in response to questions from Democratic Sen. Cory Booker — who also defended the letter — about whether parents could be intimidated from raising certain issues at school board meetings, the attorney general said, “All of those things are protected by the Constitution.”

Video Transcript

MERRICK GARLAND: No, Senator--

TOM COTTON: This is--

MERRICK GARLAND: --that's wrong.

TOM COTTON: --shameful. Judge, this is shameful. This testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful.

MERRICK GARLAND: That's not cor--

TOM COTTON: Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, Judge.

- General Garland, do you want to complete your answer on--

MERRICK GARLAND: OK, I wasn't sure there was a question there, but let me be clear. The news reports I'm talking about were not the news reports in that letter. They were other news reports that everybody here has heard about, subsequent reports that everybody has heard about. We are-- there is nothing in this memorandum-- and I wish if senators were concerned about this, they would quote my words.

This memorandum is not about parents being able to object in their school boards. They are protected by the First Amendment. As long as there are no threats of violence, they are completely protected. So parents can object to their school boards about curriculum, about the treatment of their children, about school policies. All of that is 100% protected by the First Amendment, and there is nothing in this memorandum contrary to that. We are only trying to prevent violence against school officials.

TED CRUZ: This is a memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigations saying, go investigate parents as domestic terrorists.

MERRICK GARLAND: That is not what the memo says at all. It does not--

TED CRUZ: Is it what the letter says?

MERRICK GARLAND: That is not what--

TED CRUZ: Is it what the letter says?

MERRICK GARLAND: I don't care what the letter says--

TED CRUZ: You don't care. You said it was the basis of your memo. You testified under oath before the House of Representatives the letter was the basis of your memo. Now you don't care about the letter?

MERRICK GARLAND: The letter and public reports of violence and threats of violence. My memo says nothing about domestic terrorism, says nothing about parents committing any such things. My memo is an attempt to get an assessment of whether there is a problem out there that the federal government needs to--

TED CRUZ: The letter on its face says, "The actions of the parents could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism"--

MERRICK GARLAND: And that is wrong.

TED CRUZ: --and asks the president to use the Patriot Act in regards to domestic terrorism, directed at parents. This was the basis of your memo.

MERRICK GARLAND: My memo--

TED CRUZ: The Department of Justice? When you're directing the FBI to engage in law enforcement, you're not behaving as a political operative because a political ally of the president says, hey, go attack these parents because we don't like what they're saying. Department of Justice. You did no independent research on what was happening, did you?

MERRICK GARLAND: The memo has nothing to do with partisan pol--

TED CRUZ: Did you do independent research?

MERRICK GARLAND: The memo has--

TED CRUZ: Did you do independent research?

MERRICK GARLAND: The memo has nothing to do with partisan politics.

TED CRUZ: OK, you're not answering that question.

CORY BOOKER: If someone's to read the actual letter, you are literally saying, as the leader of the highest law enforcement office in the land, that you protect spirited debate. That you think, though, given the climate of school violence in America-- I've met with victims from Parkland. Mr. President, I'm sorry. I have watched Republican after Republican go over time and you're-- I know you're gently banging that gavel, but I've watched all today. My colleagues violate what you said at the beginning was a strict time limit. And I would ask you to afford me two more minutes.

- Is there objection? No objection.

CORY BOOKER: Have you met with Parkland survivors?

MERRICK GARLAND: I met with survivors at the White House. And--

CORY BOOKER: Yes or no?

MERRICK GARLAND: I believe they-- I think the answer is--

CORY BOOKER: You've met with survivors of school violence. Have you--

MERRICK GARLAND: I think I met with the Parkland families. Yes.

CORY BOOKER: Do you have a responsibility-- in a climate of threats and violence taking place at schools, do you have a responsibility to convene strategy meetings to try to make sure we do not have eruptions of violence in the country? Is that a responsibility of the federal government?

MERRICK GARLAND: Yes, our job is to protect Americans.

CORY BOOKER: Did you specifically say anything in this election-- in this letter that can be seen as harassing moms and dads and parents? Or did you explicitly say that the Constitution protects spirited debate?

MERRICK GARLAND: I specifically said the Constitution protects specifically-- spirited debate. And I don't believe there's anything in this letter that could be read to intimidate mothers and fathers.

CORY BOOKER: And I'm not talking about the outrage machines that seem to fuel our politics on both sides. I'm talking about the actual letter here, sir, that you wrote. You're a good-hearted person. Is there anything in this letter that could specifically lead a good-hearted parent who is against mask mandates, who somehow believes that the teaching of racial discrimination is repugnant to them-- is there anything in this letter that would prevent them from going and speaking to it and yelling and being upset and letting their elected officials know what they really believe? Is there anything in the actual print of this letter that could be seen to lead to that type of intimidation?

MERRICK GARLAND: No, Senator. All of those things are protected by the Constitution.

CORY BOOKER: Will you say that one more time?

MERRICK GARLAND: All of those things are protected by the Constitution.

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