Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to say whether he believes asylum laws are being abused during a Senate hearing Wednesday — as illegal border crossings reach 1.7 million since the Biden administration took power, and thousands of migrants are currently making their way to the U.S. from Central America in a “caravan.”
When appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face questions about the politicization of the Justice Department, the attorney general was pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham on reports of over 2,000 migrants marching to the southern border.
After establishing that Garland was aware of the report, Graham asked, “What would you tell these people?”
“I would tell them not to come,” Garland said, adding that the Justice Department job is focused on prosecution.
Graham then asked Garland if he thinks US asylum laws are being “abused,” to which Garland refused to answer in general terms, saying it depends on the case.
“I think that question is one that has to be evaluated on a one by one basis…,” Garland responded.
Garland then said he did “not recall” being told by the border patrol, during a recent trip to the crossing, that they are being overwhelmed by the massive influx of illegal immigrants.
During the hearing, Garland was slammed by Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Committee, for moving the Department of Justice “as far left as it can go,” accusing President Biden and Garland of politicizing the department.
“President Biden has politicized and inserted himself into the department policymaking, notably, directing the end of compulsory process for reporter records in criminal leak investigations, and most recently, inserting himself when he said the department should prosecute anyone who defies compulsory process from the January 6 committee,” Grassley said, referring to comments made by the president almost two weeks ago.
“In less than a year the department has moved as far left as it can go,” the Iowa Senator said. “You’ve politicized the department in ways it shouldn’t be.”
“You’ve created a task force that includes the department’s Criminal Division and National Security Division to be potentially weaponized against parents,” Grassley said, adding “The last thing the Justice Department and FBI need is a vague memo to unleash their power — especially when they’ve shown zero interest in holding their own accountable.”
The memo in question was highlighted during last week’s House Judiciary hearing where Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) accused Garland of creating a “snitch line” on parents.
Issued earlier this month, Garland’s memo announced the federal investigation of “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
Garland’s memo did not detail what the “threats of violence” were, but many parents and Republican politicians have accused him of targeting parents for speaking out against the implementation of mask mandates and critical race theory in K-12 schools.
In recent months, many parents have spoken out against both at school board meetings, with some interactions turning raucous.
Shortly before Garland issued the memo, the National School Boards Association asked the federal government to get involved, comparing the threats of violence to “domestic terrorism.”
But the NSBA board of directors on Friday said “we regret and apologize for the letter” that was co-signed by association CEO Chip Slaven and president Viola Garcia.
“To be clear, the safety of school board members, other public school officials, and students is our top priority, and there remains important work to be done on this issue,” the board wrote. “However, there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter.”
Grassley stood up for parents in his opening remarks Wednesday, saying parents are just trying to “protect their children.”
“They’re worried about diversity and harmful curricula based upon critical race theory. They’re speaking their minds about mask mandates. This is the very core of constitutionally protected speech — and free speech is deadly to the tyranny of government, and is the lifeblood of our constitutional republic.”
“I suggest that you quickly change your course because you’re losing credibility with the American people and with this senator in particular,” he added.”
Grassley later pressed Garland to retract the memo, given the NSBA board of director’s apology.
“So last week, the organization disavowed it, sent you and the White House, based your memo on this delegitimize letter. I assume you’re going to revoke your extremely divisive memo that you said was instigated because of that letter. That’s a question,” Grassley said to Garland.
“Senator, the memo — which I refer to as one page — that responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct,” Garland responded. “That’s all it’s about and all it asks is for federal law enforcement consult with, meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance if it is necessary.”
Grassley pushed further saying, “Presumably, you wrote the memo because of the letter. The letter is disavowed now, so you’re going to keep your memo going anyway, right? Is that what you’re telling me?”
Garland did not directly answer Grassley’s question but acknowledged the letter from the NSBA board. He noted that while the board apologized for the language, they can still voice concern about the safety of school board officials and school staff.
“The language in the letter that they disavow is language was never included in my memo and never would have been. I did not adopt every concern that they had in their letter. I thought that only the concern about violence and threats of violence that hasn’t changed,” Garland said.
The Iowa Republican then shifted gears, asking the attorney general if he considered “ the chilling impact your memorandum would have on parents exercising their constitutional rights.”
In response, Garland repeated a familiar talking point about the memo, saying it was focused on violence and threats of violence.
Grassley pushed further, asking the question three more times, with Garland deflecting each one.
“General, you’re a very intelligent, accomplished lawyer and judge. You can answer the question, [did you] consider the chilling effect that this sort of threat of federal prosecution would have on parents exercising their constitutional rights to be involved in their children’s education.”
“I don’t believe it’s reasonable to read this memorandum as chilling anyone’s rights,” Garland finally said. “It’s about threats of violence, and it expressly recognizes this constitutional right, who can make arguments about your children’s education.”
“Let the record reflect the Attorney General refused to answer the question,” Grassley said as his time for questioning ended.
Garland has repeatedly defended his memo, saying he “defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as viscerally as they wish, about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in their schools.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called the memo “over the top” and accused Garland of putting parents in the same category as domestic terrorists like Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh.
“There’s nothing in the memo that-that in any way draws any comparison [to] anything like that, this memo is about violence and threats of violence,” Garland insisted.
“I have to tell you that that may be your opinion,” Blackburn pushed back. “And you know, many times perception is reality, and reading that memo myself, Tennesseans reading that memo, what they found in that memo, what they heard you said was if you show up and you question the school board’s you will be deemed a domestic terrorist.”
The attorney general was also pressed on an alleged sexual assault case that was reportedly covered up by school board members in Loudoun County, Virginia, a case he was unable to answer questions about when appearing before the House saying he wasn’t “familiar” with the case.
“Have you become familiar with the publicly reported details of that case?” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ut.) asked.
“Yes, I have read about the case. Yes,” Garland said.
“If you were unfamiliar with the supposed instances of threats of violence and intimidation that the National School Board Association cited in the letter, and how did you determine the intervention by the FBI and the DOJ was necessary — that that was the right approach,” Lee continued in his questioning.
“The right approach in the letter is to meet with local law enforcement,” Garland said. “That’s what we’ve asked for is to meet to assess the situation to see what their needs are. Strategize and open lines of communication. Now, I’m hopeful that many areas of local law enforcement will be well able to handle this on their own. But this is what the Justice Department does every day. We consult with our local and state partners and see whether assistance is necessary.”
After a heated exchange with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) regarding the memo and the Loudoun case, Cotton called on Garland to “resign in disgrace,” while praising God the attorney general is not on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) joined Cotton’s call for Garland to resign as well as urging him to retract the memo.
At the end of the regularly scheduled questioning during the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) slammed Garland for not having done independent research before issuing the memo.
“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 Investigations saying go investigate parents as domestic terrorists,” Cruz said.
Garland also faced questions about his son-in-law and the education company he co-founded, Panorama Education. Some Republicans have accused the attorney general of conflict of interest, claiming his son-in-law’s company will benefit from the controversial memo.
Garland denied those claims saying “This memorandum does not relate to the financial interests of anyone,” adding that the memo is aimed at the threats of violence.
On Wednesday, Cruz pressed the attorney general on whether he sought an ethics opinion given his son-in-law’s company and claims that Panorama Education is involved in issuing critical race theory curriculum.
Garland pushed back, telling the Texas Republican that the memo had nothing to do with critical race theory.
“Are you refusing to answer if you found an ethics telling you –” Cruz said.
“There’s no possible — ” Garland attempted to respond.
“So you’re saying no, just answer it directly. You know how to answer a question directly. Did you see an ethics opinion?
“I’m telling you that if I thought there was any reasonable — if there was a conflict of interest, I would do that,” Garland said.
Cruz and Garland continued to go back and forth, with the Texas senator repeating the question and urging Garland to answer.
As Cruz’s time for questioning expired, he said, “Let the record reflect the Attorney General refuses to answer whether he sought, sought an ethics opinion and apparently ethics are not a terribly high priority of the — by the Justice Department.”