Republican senators raised conflict of interest concerns with Attorney General Merrick Garland over the Biden law enforcement chief’s son-in-law’s education company following a controversial Justice Department memo about alleged threats and intimidation at school board protests.
Panorama Education, co-founded by Xan Tanner, who is the group’s president and is married to Garland’s daughter, claims it has made its way into thousands of schools in the United States, selling race-focused student and teacher surveys and conducting training on systemic racism and oppression, white supremacy, implicit bias, and intersectionality, all under the rubric of “Social-Emotional Learning.”
The company makes it clear that “SEL” is a “vehicle” for achieving its goals related to “equity.”
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marsha Blackburn published a letter to Garland saying that “actual violence, harassment, and threats are criminal activities and must be condemned” but adding that “the memorandum appears intended to intimidate parents across the country into silence.”
The Republicans continued: “Equally concerning, however, is reporting about an alleged connection between your family members and controversial curricula that will directly benefit from this memorandum and the chilling of speech.”
Garland’s memo alleged that “there has 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 memo was released just a few days after the National School Boards Association argued to President Joe Biden that “the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and called upon the DOJ to review whether the PATRIOT Act, “in regards to domestic terrorism,” could be deployed.
Cruz, Lee, and Blackburn pointed out to Garland that “less than a week later, you issued the memorandum, which will benefit companies like Panorama, whose contracts may be in jeopardy as parents stand up to school boards and demand that their children not be indoctrinated with critical race theory.” The trio added: “The American people have a strong interest in ensuring that the Department of Justice is acting in their best interests, and not in the financial interest of its officials or their families.”
The Republican senators brought up the DOJ guides on conflicts of interest, which state in part: “Generally, an employee should seek advice from an ethics official before participating in any matter in which her impartiality could be questioned. An employee may not participate, without authorization, in a particular matter having specific parties that could affect the financial interests of members of her household or where one of the following is a party or represents a party.” The guidelines specifically mention “a relative with whom an employee has a close relationship.”
The GOP trio said, “This policy is to prevent both actual conflicts of interests, as well as the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
They also posed questions that they want Garland to answer, including whether Panorama is providing or will in the future provide services to the DOJ, whether Panorama provides services to any federal agencies, whether Panorama and the DOJ have communicated during the Biden administration, and whether any school district, teachers union, or trade organization has contacted the DOJ about Panorama this year.
Panorama pushes far-left ideas on race. One 2021 workshop by Panorama is titled “SEL as Social Justice: Dismantling White Supremacy Within Systems and Self” and includes a slide that highlights a 2020 article titled “How White Supremacy Lives in Our Schools.” The article claims that “the Ku Klux Klan and MAGAs at half-empty Trump rallies (not that these are mutually exclusive groups) are in fact examples of white supremacy.”
A Washington Examiner review detailed the ideas pushed by Panorama and some of its ties to left-wing ideological groups. The education company lays out guidance and instructions for how advocates and activists can push lawmakers to adopt SEL in their schools and how school districts can use taxpayer funds to pay Panorama for its services.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also raised concerns with Garland about his memo, saying, “Your memorandum’s ominous rhetoric doesn’t reflect the reality of what we have seen at school boards across the country in recent months … I hope you will agree with me that the kind of grassroots interest parents have shown throughout the country in both the methods and substance of their children’s education is to be commended.”
He asked whether Garland or anyone else in the DOJ had communicated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, or the National School Boards Association about the memorandum before it was issued.
All 11 GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to Garland arguing that “the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts.”
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco defended the memo during Senate testimony, arguing, “There can be very spirited public debate, and there should be very spirited public debate on a whole host of issues, but when that tips over into violence or threats, there is a role for law enforcement.“