First off, credit to Chuck Ross who noticed this had been released and started tweeting about it. As you may recall, the National School Board Association (NSBA) sent a letter to White House last September which asked for a review of threats against school board members and which suggested the Patriot Act could be used against parents who were compared to domestic terrorists. Days later AG Merrick Garland issued a response which didn’t mention the Patriot Act but did say the FBI would be checking in with school boards around the country.
But as word of the original letter spread people were outraged. By the end of October, the NSBA had apologized for “some of the language” in the letter. But the apology was too little, too late. Within days five state school board associations had withdrawn from the NSBA. By December the number of state associations leaving the national organization reached seventeen. That represented about 40% of the NSBA’s annual dues. By January the number had climbed to 19 and the Washington Post reported the NSBA was on the verge of a total collapse.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to help them understand what had gone wrong the NSBA hired an outside law firm to write a report about what went wrong. That’s the 55 page report that was released today.
The first takeaway is a confirmation of something we learned last year. The letter was arranged by Chip Slaven, the interim CEO of the NSBA at the time. However, the White House, in the form of White House Senior Adviser Mary Wall, was heavily consulted about the letter during its drafting.
Although the Letter was the progeny of Mr. Slaven with active assistance from his staff and some of his NSBA colleagues, the White House, namely White House Senior Advisor to the President Mary C. Wall (““Ms. Wall”), had advance knowledge of the planned Letter and its specific contents and interacted with Mr. Slaven regarding the Letter during its drafting. In addition, evidence indicates that White House officials discussed the existence of the Letter, its requests, and the contents of the Letter with Department of Justice officials more than a week before the Letter was finalized and sent to President Biden…
On September 9, Mr. Slaven began acting on the issue. Specifically, Mr. Slaven called to direct Ms. Mellow, who emailed to direct Ms. Rigsby, to begin drafting the Letter. Ms. Mellow also directed NSBA’s research analyst to compile a list of “egregious examples” of incidents that occurred at local school board meetings to be included in the Letter. Also on September 9, Mr. Slaven participated in a call with Ms. Wall, dung which he expressed his concern directly to Ms. Wall “over the many threats school board members are receiving” and requested assistance from the White House. Ms. Wall responded to Mr. Slaven the same day, thanking him for participating in the White House call and requesting they confer directly regarding Mr. Slaven’s concerns.
Over the next several weeks, Mr. Slaven coordinated the efforts of Ms. Rigsby and Ms. Mellow to produce the Letter. Simultaneously, Mr. Slaven continued discussions with the White House, through Ms. Wall, on the topics contained in the Letter. On September 14, 2021, Mr. Slaven conferred with Ms. Wall on a call where she requested NSBA’s list of “egregious examples” of alleged school board threats and disruptions. On September 21, 2021, pursuant to Ms. Wall’s requests, Mr. Slaven provided the White House with an advance summary of the Letter’s contents and its list of requests for federal intervention, along with the previously requested list of “egregious examples,” so White House officials could “include” the planned contents of the Letter in discussions with Department of Justice officials on September 22, 2021…
On September 29, 2021, Mr. Slaven sent the Letter to President Biden, requesting federal intervention.
The summary of events notes that the White House actually had more knowledge of the letter and its contents than many people within the NSBA. When the letter was finally made public, the White House responded by having President Biden call NSBA board of directors president Dr. Viola Garcia to discuss it.
President Biden personally called Dr. Garcia regarding the Letter. According to Dr. Garcia, President Biden was “appreciative” of and thanked her for the Letter in a fifteen-minute one-on-one phone call. President Biden also extended an invitation to Dr. Garcia to visit the Oval Office, however the visit never occurred. *4 The next day, Ms. Wall and Mr. Slaven discussed, via email, how Dr. Garcia was “thrilled” and had a “wonderful conversation with the President.” On October 7, Ms. Wall emailed Mr. Slaven: “we have your back, and we’re exploring every avenue we can.”® Dr. Garcia confided to Counsel that despite her excitement from President Biden’s support, she was reluctant to discuss the call because of the perception that the NSBA was “in cahoots essentially with the
Biden Administration on this Letter.”
Did Biden actually read the letter? I sort of doubt it but someone must have given him a summary in preparation for this call. Whatever the case, the White House had been discussing this for a week and had an advance copy of the letter. Did no one think the language about domestic terrorism and the Patriot Act was a bit extreme? Did no one notice that the list of “egregious examples” mostly included speech covered by the First Amendment? Apparently not.
In any case, the coordination went both ways with the Attorney General’s office discussing the AG’s response with the NSBA in advance of its release.
On October 4, in response to the Letter, Anthony Coley, a Senior Advisor to the Attoney General opened up a dialogue via email with the NSBA on behalf of the Department of Justice to
discuss steps to address the threats the Letter referenced.’ The Department of Justice discussed a forthcoming memo that the Attorney General intended to issue, and a copy of that memo was provided to Mr. Slaven shortly before its release.
The report goes on to make it clear that it was Chip Slaven who added the line about use of the Patriot Act “in regards to domestic terrorism.”
Mr. Slaven added, after the reference to the PATRIOT Act: “in regards to domestic terrorism.””…
Notably, in his interview, Mr. Slaven expressed that he edited the letter to clarify that the request to utilize the PATRIOT Act was not with regard to al Qaeda or foreign adversaries, but with regard to the fact that “we were concerned over folks here in this country.”
And credit to Chuck Ross once again for catching this next tidbit. Slaven also removed a line about deploying the National Guard.
Mr. Slaven decided to remove the following language: “Further, in egregious circumstances and via coordination with local and state authorities, we ask that the Army National Guard and its Military Police be deployed to certain school districts and related events where students and school personnel have been subjected to acts and threats of violence.”
This whole thing originated with the NSBA and the report says there’s no evidence it was requested or edited by the White House. Even so, the White House was neck deep in this almost from the start. Apparently no one at the White House was the least put off by the language in the letter or noticed that the list of “egregious” examples they had asked to review in advance was mostly made up of things that were clearly covered by the First Amendment. Yet thanks to they discussions they had in advance of the letter’s release, the Attorney General was able to issue a response within a matter of days. The NSBA has paid a price for the letter but the White House response is embarrassing in its own right.