After Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted out a lengthy thread accusing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of leniency in dealing with sex offenders — particularly those who hurt children — other Republicans are following his lead.
As has become routine in the right-wing media ecosystem, Hawley’s incendiary accusations landed him on Fox News during Thursday night primetime.
“I think we just have a basic question to ask,” Hawley said. “Are we gonna get a judge here who’s gonna protect children, or who’s gonna protect child predators?”
“You say that this came both as a judge and a policymaker, meaning her background, and you are concerned that this is a record that will endanger children and you cite other cases,” host Sean Hannity served up. “I mean, how does somebody facing a 10-year sentence for something this serious only get three months in prison?”
It’s an offshoot of the tried-and-true line of attack those like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) favor — that Jackson’s background proves her to be soft on crime.
McConnell said Thursday from the Senate floor that Jackson’s “service as a criminal defense lawyer and on the U.S. sentencing commission give her special empathy for convicted criminals.”
But Hawley’s spin seems cater-made for the far right of the party and its fever swamp denizens. A through line in many right-wing conspiracy theories, particularly those crafted in the QAnon community, is a connection between believers’ reviled enemies on the left and pedophilia. Pizzagate, perhaps the most well-known attack predicated on QAnon beliefs, involved the belief that prominent Democratic figures were running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor’s basement.
Republican lawmakers do occasionally distance themselves from QAnon and its fixation on child predators. But they seem to be leaning in to Hawley’s line of attack.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), like Hawley a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will get the opportunity to publicly question Jackson, amplified the Missouri senator’s accusations.
“The White House’s whataboutist response to Judge Jackson’s very real record in child pornography cases is dismissive, dangerous, and offensive,” he tweeted. “We need real answers.”
The White House Thursday called Hawley’s claims “toxic and weakly-presented misinformation.” Press Secretary Jen Psaki quipped of Hawley at her daily briefing that “I’m not sure that someone who refused to tell people whether he would vote for Roy Moore is an effective messenger.”
Hawley and Lee may not be the only committee members interested in using the attack line as ammunition. Senate Judiciary Republicans are circulating talking points on the topic, according to Politico.
The document claims that Jackson “routinely handed out light sentences but the lightest in all categories reviewed by Judiciary Republicans was in child pornography cases.”
“Republicans have telegraphed for weeks that they want to falsely smear Judge Jackson as ‘soft on crime,’” a Senate Democratic aide told TPM. “This latest attack relies on mischaracterizations and taking Judge Jackson’s record wildly out of context. For example, Senator Hawley took a snippet of a transcript out of context when in fact Judge Jackson is repeating something a witness said in order to ask a question about their testimony.”