Republican lawmakers say a whistleblower sent them an internal FBI email that shows the counterterrorism unit is monitoring threats against school board members, despite Attorney General Merrick Garland denying such surveillance.
According to the email, the assistant directors of the FBI counterterrorism and criminal divisions told agents to track the threats in response to Mr. Garland’s Oct. 4 memo directing the bureau and other federal agencies to address a “disturbing spike” in threats against school board members and other school officials.
The email, obtained by Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, states that agents should apply the threat tag “EDUOFFICIALS” to investigations and assessments of the threats.
“The purpose of the threat tag is to help scope this threat on a national level and provide an opportunity for comprehensive analysis of the threat picture for effective engagement with law enforcement partners at all levels,” the email states.
It goes on to say that when agents evaluate a potential threat, they should consider the motivation and whether there is a federal nexus or any federal violations that can be investigated and charged.
The email was sent the day before Mr. Garland testified before the committee on Oct. 27.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a letter sent to Mr. Garland on Tuesday that the email “calls into question the accuracy” of his testimony that the department was “not using counterterrorism statutes and resources to target concerned parents at school board meetings.”
Mr. Garland testified that he could not “imagine any circumstance” in which the department would use the counterterrorism Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to conduct secret surveillance of American citizens, to investigate “parents complaining about their children.”
Mr. Jordan, however, said, “if we assume that you were ignorant of the FBI’s actions in response to your October 4 memorandum at the time of your testimony, this new evidence suggests that your testimony to the committee was incomplete and requires additional explanation.”
“If, however, you were aware of the FBI’s actions at the time of your testimony, this evidence shows that you willfully misled the committee about the nature and extent of the department’s use of federal counterterrorism tools to target concerned parents at school board meetings,” Mr. Jordan said.
He invited Mr. Garland to amend his testimony in regard to whether the department or any of its agencies has used, or is currently using, counterterrorism tools to investigate threats against school board members.
Nicole Neilly, president of the nonprofit Parents Defending Education, said Tuesday that “the credibility of a storied federal agency has been thrown into question” in light of the whistleblower email.
“Not only has America’s education bureaucracy declared war on parents concerned about local schools — but so has the Department of Justice, which has weaponized the FBI against parents to chill their speech,” Ms. Neilly said in a statement.
An FBI spokesperson told The Washington Times on Tuesday that the bureau “has never been in the business of investigating parents who speak out or policing speech at school board meetings, and we are not going to start now.”
The FBI’s focus, the spokesperson said, is on both “violence and threats of violence that potentially violate federal law.”
“The Criminal Investigative Division and the Counterterrorism Division share responsibility for violent threats,” the spokesperson said. “But before either division can open an investigation there must be information indicating the potential use of force or violence and a potential violation of federal law.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request Tuesday for comment from The Washington Times.
• Emily Zantow can be reached at email@example.com.
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