Senate Republicans probe Education Department, DOJ over NSBA letter

Senate Judiciary Commitee ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, led ten of his fellow Republican senators in a pair of letters to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland regarding the widely criticized NSBA correspondence.

Emails reviewed by Fox News show a top NSBA official indicating that Cardona solicited the NSBA letter, although the Education Department denies that he did so.

EDUCATION SECRETARY CARDONA SOLICITED NSBA LETTER PARING PROTESTING PARENTS TO DOMESTIC TERRORISTS: EMAIL

Miguel Cardona speaks after President-Elect Joe Biden announced him as his nominee for Education Secretary at the Queen theater on Dec. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Miguel Cardona speaks after President-Elect Joe Biden announced him as his nominee for Education Secretary at the Queen theater on Dec. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

“That letter was the proximate cause of Attorney General Garland issuing a memorandum on October 4, 2021 directing the FBI and the various U.S. Attorneys to focus on harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence directed at school officials,” the letter to Cardona reads.

“That action by Attorney General Garland has created a dramatic chilling effect on parents throughout the country and is an inappropriate deployment of federal law enforcement,” the letter continues.

The senators referenced the Fox News report on the email solicitation, saying it “makes the case” that Cardona “played an instrumental role in starting these events.”

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice on Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Garland addressed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice on Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Garland addressed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)

“This is extremely concerning to us,” the Republicans wrote. “It appears that you, the Secretary of Education, instructed a trade association to write a letter to the President of the United States so that the Attorney General might have the requisite cover to deploy federal law enforcement in a manner so as to scare American parents out of speaking freely at school-board meetings and petitioning their local governments.”

In the letter to Garland, the lawmakers also pointed out that the NSBA letter was the “proximate cause” behind the memo. 

“We now have reason to believe personnel at the NSBA coordinated its September 29 letter with, or acted at the behest of, the sitting Secretary of Education, as well as White House personnel — in a letter that asks for the PATRIOT Act to be used against American parents,” the letter to Garland reads.

Sen. Chuck Grassley

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Fox News)

The lawmakers also told Garland that they believe that acting Assistant Attorney General Peter S. Hyun’s Dec. 22, 2021, “one-page” response to the senators’ two previous letters on the issue is “incomplete.”

“It points to statements from your October 4 memorandum discussing how spirited debate is protected by the First Amendment and that it is the Department of Justice’s job to ensure the safety of all Americans, but frankly those issues were not the focus of our two letters to you on this matter,” the letter reads. “Rather, we asked you to withdraw your October 4 memorandum because of the chilling effect it has on the speech of American parents.”

“By involving the National Security Division and the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI in local matters, you have created widespread fear that the national security apparatus of the United States is keeping tabs on them,” the letter continues.

Both letters shot a litany of questions at the two Cabinet secretaries about the letter, which was used in a DOJ memo mobilizing the FBI “in support of local education officials.”

“While the Secretary did not solicit a letter from NSBA, to understand the views and concerns of stakeholders, the Department routinely engages with students, teachers, parents, district leaders and education associations,” a Department of Education spokesperson previously told Fox News Digital.

Previous emails had revealed that the NSBA was in contact with the White House and Justice Department in the weeks before it publicly sent the letter.

Joining Grassley on the letter are 10 high-profile Republican senators, including John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Fox News’ Peter Hasson contributed reporting.

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