Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, grilled Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on Wednesday about the controversial Department of Justice memorandum mobilizing the FBI to address alleged threats against school board members nationwide.
Clarke, who was appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss voting rights, was first asked by Blackburn to affirm the DOJ’s commitment to the First Amendment.
“Does it raise civil rights concerns when the government attempts to intimidate citizens who are exercising their First Amendment freedom of speech?” Blackburn asked in an apparent reference to the DOJ memo, which Attorney General Merrick Garland penned after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden.
The letter requested help for alleged death threats to school boards over COVID-19 policies and critical race theory (CRT).
Critics have claimed the memo will effectively weaponize the FBI to investigate parents who object to the curriculum and policies of their local public schools.
“The First Amendment is important, and we also do not want a society with intimidation,” Clarke told Blackburn.
When Blackburn further questioned Clarke regarding the memo, Clarke said, “This is not a matter that the civil rights division handled. I am aware of the memorandum issued by the attorney general, which speaks to threats and intimidation that some school officials have experienced in our country. And that’s not activity protected by the First Amendment.”
“And so you’re saying a parent going to a school board and expressing their dismay with CRT or with the mask mandate is not protected speech?” asked Blackburn. “Is that what you’re saying?”
Blackburn also asked if Clarke believes it is appropriate to treat parents as domestic terrorists for asking elected school board members questions about what is being taught to their children.
“While this is not an issue that the civil rights division handled, this is a memorandum issued by the attorney general, I know that the Department is committed to ensuring robust civil discourse,” said Clarke.
The senator later brought up the recent report about scrutiny Garland is facing over ties to a company that promotes the type of content parents are opposing in their ongoing battle with local school boards.
When Clarke again claimed that the issue was also not within her purview, Blackburn replied: “So you all work in stovepipes is what you’re telling me, and that you have no knowledge or information about what is being done to parents and how they are being labeled, and this directive for the FBI to go and investigate parents who are standing up for what their children are being subjected to in some public school systems.”
Cruz pressed Clarke with a similar line of questioning, alleging that neither she nor Garland have managed to uphold their promise to maintain an apolitical DOJ.
Echoing Blackburn, Cruz pressed Clarke to clarify if the DOJ believes parents questioning their school boards have civil rights, to which Clarke responded by assuring the senator that she does not view such parents as domestic terrorists.
When Clarke declined to opine regarding whether she views Antifa as domestic terrorists, Cruz said, “Miss Clarke, it is amazing that you’re not willing to condemn people who are murdering police officers and firebombing cities because your politics aligns with them but at the same time, when it comes to parents at school boards, you’re perfectly comfortable with calling a mom at a PTA meeting a domestic terrorist.”
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