WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, issued subpoenas Friday to the heads of the Justice Department, FBI and Department of Education seeking documents related to local school board meetings.
The subpoenas — which Jordan noted are his first as chairman sent to the Biden administration — require Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to turn over all documents on the topic by March 1.
“Since October 2021, Judiciary Committee Republicans have sent over one hundred letters to Biden Administration officials requesting answers about how the Administration used federal counterterrorism resources against American parents,” Jordan’s office said Friday.
Jordan, who also chairs a new subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government,” said whistleblowers have claimed that the FBI’s counterterrorism and criminal divisions “created a specific threat tag for school board-related threats and even opened investigations into parents simply for speaking out on behalf of their children.” Republicans outlined those claims in a November report on the “politicization” of the DOJ and FBI.
School board meetings across the country have intensified and grown violent in recent years, especially since the Covid pandemic began. In October, a man was recorded on video saying LGBTQ people “deserve death” during a school board meeting in Arkansas where several anti-LGBTQ policies were passed. In January 2022, a Virginia woman was charged after she appeared to threaten school board officials while they met to vote on whether to lift a mask requirement.
Garland formed a task force in October 2021 to address the increased threats, saying in a memorandum that there had been a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools.”
The subpoena sent to Garland requests documents and communications, for example, between DOJ employees and U.S. intelligence agencies “referring or relating to alleged threats posed by concerned parents at local school board meetings.” It also calls on him to provide records related to the creation of the DOJ’s task force to address violent threats against school officials and teachers.
Wray’s subpoena asks for documents related to meetings held with U.S. Attorney’s offices that pertained to the task force, and also requests documents and communications related to the threat tag.
Cardona was asked to supply documents related to a letter sent by the National School Board Association in September 2021 to President Joe Biden requesting assistance to keep school board meetings safe.
“As these acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the letter said.
An FBI spokesperson responded to Jordan’s subpoenas Friday afternoon, saying in a statement: “As Director Wray and other FBI officials have stated clearly on numerous occasions before Congress and elsewhere, the FBI has never been in the business of investigating speech or policing speech at school board meetings or anywhere else, and we never will be.”
“We are fully committed to preserving and protecting First Amendment rights including the right to free speech. Attempts to further any political narrative will not change those facts,” the spokesperson said, adding that the FBI “is actively working to respond to congressional requests for information – including voluntary production of documents.”
The Justice Department acknowledged receipt of the subpoena but had no further comment.
A spokesperson for the Education Department said in a statement that the department “responded to Chairman Jordan’s letter earlier this week,” before the subpoena was issued, and that it “remains committed to responding to the House Judiciary Committee’s requests in a manner consistent with longstanding Executive Branch policy.”
Stacey Plaskett, a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives from the U.S. Virgin Islands who serves as the top Democrat on Jordan’s weaponization panel, trashed Jordan and Republicans in a statement Friday in response to the subpoenas.
“The conspiracy theories underpinning today’s subpoenas have been debunked with facts time and time again, but Republicans do not want to be bothered by this inconvenient truth. There is no amount of documents that will satisfy the MAGA obsession with conspiracies,” she said. “While I am disappointed that Republicans have resorted to this type of aggressive arm-twisting and performative politics, I am confident that what they have asked for will once again disprove this tired right-wing theory.”
Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.