Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to say Thursday whether he sought ethics guidance concerning his son-in-law’s business – which pushes critical race theory-related ideas and provides services to school districts nationwide – before he issued his explosive memo this month saying the FBI will investigate threats by parents against school board members.
While testifying at a House Judiciary Committee hearing dedicated to the oversight of the Justice Department, Garland was asked by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., to address conflict of interest concerns regarding his son-in-law’s company, Panorama Education, a technology company that endorses the type of left-leaning ideas that parents have opposed in school districts across the U.S.
The company was reportedly paid at least $27 million from as many as 1,500 school districts across the country since 2017, raising questions about how much Garland’s family stands to benefit from law enforcement cracking down on school board opposition.
"We now know that that company publishes and sells critical race theory and so-called anti-racism materials to schools across the country, and it works with school districts nationwide to obtain and analyze data on students, often without parental consent," Johnson said.
The congressman asked Garland if he was aware of the federal regulations related to upholding the impartiality of executive branch employees.
"I am very familiar with it," Garland responded. "And I want to be clear once again that there is nothing in this memorandum which has any effect on the kinds of curriculums that are taught or the ability of parents to complain."
Johnson pressed the attorney general on whether he sought ethics guidance concerning his son-in-law's business before he sent out his controversial Oct. 4 memo, which directed the FBI and U.S. attorney offices to hold meetings with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders within 30 days to discuss ways to combat what the DOJ described as an "increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools."
Johnson said to Garland, "The question is the thing that is concerned many of those parents that are showing up at the school board meetings, the very basis of their objection and their vigorous debate, as you mentioned earlier, is the curricula, the very curricula that your son-in-law is selling."
"An employee of the executive branch is discouraged from engaging in conduct that's likely to affect the financial interest of someone close to them," Johnson continued. "Your son-in-law, your daughter, clearly meets that definition. So the question is, did you follow that regulation? Did you have the appropriate agency ethics official look into this? Did you seek guidance as the federal regulation requires?"
Garland repeatedly refused to answer the question, saying only that the memo targets threats of violence against school officials.
"This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence," Garland said.
"Did you seek ethics counsel before you issued a letter that directly relates to the financial interest of your family? Yes or no?" Johnson asked.
"This memorandum does not relate to the financial interests of anyone," Garland responded.
"I take that as a no," Johnson said.
Garland also refused to say whether he would consider submitting to an ethics review.
"Will you commit to having the appropriate ethics designee review the case and make the results public?," Johnson asked.
"This memorandum is aimed at violence and threats of violence," Garland replied, later adding, "There's no company in America or, hopefully, no law abiding citizen of America who believes that threats of violence should not be prevented. There are no conflicts of interest that anyone could have."
"According to you," Johnson fired back.
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful," Johnson continued later, "but you are not respecting our rules, our constitutional norms and the federal law that directly applies to your activities. This is a great concern. This is why people are losing faith in our institutions. They're losing faith in this Department of Justice."
Fox News' Sam Dorman contributed to this report.