On Thursday Jan. 19, the Washington Jewish Week’s editorial team welcomed Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) to its Rockville office for a roundtable interview on a variety of subjects, including recent the recent bomb threats made against JCCs along the East Coast and anticipated conflicts with the new administration of President Donald Trump. Below is an excerpt from our interview.
Since you started Maryland’s hate crime hotline in November what has the response been?
We started it in response to what we perceive to be an upwelling of hate following the election, and I think the Southern Poverty Law Center and others have documented that that has occurred. We’ve received dozens of calls in response to the establishment of our hotline. I think the number’s around 50. It’s not a huge number but it’s significant. There was not an active hotline before we established it. But I don’t think that the experience around the state was pronounced before [the election] as it has been since, though I can’t say the number itself is huge or particularly alarming.
What we do with the calls is, when we think the allegations may amount to a crime, we refer it to a local state’s attorney. We refer the matters to schools when they relate to educational activities or kids. We had a listening session where we brought in folks that are concerned about this issue: religious leaders, the ACLU, Anti-Defamation League, NAACP, etc.… And they share our concern. Their perception is that these incidents have increased not only in number but in seriousness and it remains an issue of great concern for our office.
Do you have a geographic breakdown?
It’s all over the state. Ironically, the day we had our listening session, Howard Libit, who is the director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that a bomb threat had been phoned in to the JCC as it had been for 15 other JCCs. If you did a statistical analysis you’d probably find there are more threats in the Baltimore or Washington metropolitan areas, but that’s only because there are more people.
The FBI is investigating the bomb threats, but will Maryland still have a role?
A bomb threat is a crime. If we can figure out who did it then yes, the state would play a role. It might be the local state’s attorney.
What do you know about the bomb threat events?
If I knew something I couldn’t say, because we couldn’t make investigations public until there’s an indictment or charge to report.
Do you feel comfortable with the security levels of Jewish institutions?
I think people can be comfortable and feel safe if they’re going to the JCC.
Last Month, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) said he was unsure of where the post-election vitriol was coming from. Do you have a response?
I don’t think there’s any secret about where the vitriol’s coming from. It comes from Donald Trump. This is a guy who has repeatedly appealed to the baser instincts of the American public, sometimes subtly and sometimes not subtly. His statements about how he feels about women and treat women have been a shining horrible example for the American public. They make it appear that that kind of conduct is appropriate and acceptable. It shouldn’t be, but that’s where it all comes from.
What’s your response to the idea that state attorneys general can play a role in influencing the Trump administration?
I think we can. I hope we don’t have to, of course. But our office will be prepared to do that. Look, Donald Trump has threatened many of the things that we hold dear in Maryland and that I think are important. Civil rights is a great example. When you talk about establishing a registry for any religious minority, that’s unconstitutional and it’s a violation of the laws of our state and the laws of our nation. And it’s a violation of the precepts on which our country was founded. So if something like that would occur, we would take action.
The nominee for administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency [Scott Pruitt] was one of the people who was at the lead of a lawsuit to shut down the Chesapeake Bay Program. EPA established essentially a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay and Scott Pruitt said, “You don’t have the authority to do that.” And he filed suit to stop it. I think we can anticipate an attack on the environmental laws and principals that we’ve carefully built up over the last four or five decades in our country. And if that happens and done in a way that violates those laws, we’ll be prepared to act on that.
Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, is someone who has stood in the way of progress on civil rights and civil liberties, prosecuted people for recruiting voters for doing the same things that white voters are doing. Three black people were charged with felonies for organizing black voters while the same thing was going on in white communities. Registering and encouraging people to vote is a basic right and is protected by the first amendment, and to have someone who is standing in the way is extremely upsetting, unnerving and dangerous.
Would the attorneys general pursue action through federal law or through violations of state law?
Well it would have to be federal law because the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution says that federal law prevails over state law.
What about immigration? Do you see that as something you could address?
Yes, I could see potential conflict between Trump carrying out promises that he’s made and what I believe to be the civil rights of people that are here in our country legally. I envision that as another potential area where we would have a conflict.
Has there been any coordination with other state attorneys general?
Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general from New York, and I just put together a letter of attorneys general opposing the nominations of Jeff Sessions for attorney general of the U.S. We’re in the process of putting together a group of attorneys general to oppose the nomination of Scott Pruitt.
Is there any precedent for the state attorneys general to act if they feel the U.S. attorney general has broken the law?
“Yes. Absolutely. And you’ve seen Republican attorneys general act repeatedly in concert to stop initiatives of the Obama administration over the past eight years. And Scott Pruitt has been at the tip of the spear on those. He’s filed suit repeatedly to block EPA initiatives.”