“I don’t feel any responsibility for the words of other people,” Hawley told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Hawley was the first to criticize Jackson by calling her soft on child pornography offenders last month. He argued that she wrongfully handed out light sentences to people who possessed child sexual abuse images, even though her record in those cases was typical for a federal district judge.
Hawley’s criticism resonated with far-right conspiracy theorists who believe Democrats are involved in child sex trafficking rings, and on Monday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) declared that any senator who supports Jackson’s nomination is actually “pro-pedophile.”
“You are either a Senator that supports child rapists, child pornography, and the most vile child predators,” Greene said in a Twitter thread. “Or you are a Senator who protects children and votes NO to KJB!”
Fifty-three senators, including Republicans Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted Monday for a procedural motion to advance Jackson’s nomination. All are now “pro-pedophile,” according to Greene, who likes to boast that she represents the base of the Republican Party rather than its fringe.
As with the issue of supposed fraud in the 2020 election, Hawley does not use the same language as the more zealous members of his party — but he doesn’t like to contradict them, either.
When asked what he thought of calling a vote for Jackson “pro-pedophile,” Hawley didn’t directly disagree. But he did volunteer that “pro-pedophile” is not an accurate description of Jackson.
“I don’t think that Judge Jackson is pro-pedophile. I think she has a judicial philosophy where she thinks these crimes … are over-sentenced, over-criminalized,” Hawley said. “I don’t think she’s in favor of this activity, but I think she’s got a philosophy that leads her to treat these criminals leniently.”
In arguing that Jackson was soft on offenders in child pornography cases, Hawley has relied on the fact that her prison sentences were shorter than federal guidelines, but mostly ignored another fact: that most district judges sentence beneath the guidelines as well. Fifty-nine percent of cases involving possession of child sexual abuse imagery in 2019 resulted in sentences less severe than the guidelines recommended, according to a report published last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
The reason for the lower sentences in cases involving child sexual abuse images, according to the commission, is that the more widespread use of computers has made the guidelines obsolete. Their original intent was to differentiate the severity of offenses at a time when it was more difficult to obtain vast numbers of illicit images.
Hawley told HuffPost he believed Jackson’s sentences in child pornography cases were actually more lenient than those of her peers on the bench. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Monday that her sentences were 33% shorter than the national average from 2015 to 2019 in all criminal cases.
“Judge Jackson’s sentences were appropriate exercises of discretion as a judge applying the law to the facts in difficult cases,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a floor speech Tuesday. “And it’s interesting to me how the senator from Missouri has carefully drawn lines to exclude Trump appointees to the bench who’ve done exactly what this judge has done as well.”
The idea that Democrats support pedophiles has been a mainstay of far-right conspiracy theories for years. In 2016, a North Carolina man traveled to Washington, D.C., and fired an assault rifle inside a pizza restaurant as part of his effort to investigate a supposed Democratic-run child sex trafficking ring operating out of the basement. The so-called Pizzagate story was a predecessor to the QAnon movement, whose adherents helped storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Hawley said he was not familiar with Pizzagate or QAnon, even though it was Jackson herself who sentenced the Pizzagate shooter to four years in prison in 2017.