ATTORNEY GENERAL TRANSCRIPT
NEWS CONFERENCE WITH ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
TOPIC: SUPREME COURT DECISION ON CHILD PORNOGRAPHY
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C.
12:22 P.M. EDT, WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 2002
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: On April the 16th, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that did grave injury to our ability to protect children from exploitation. The Court struck down provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act, a law passed with bipartisan support in 1996.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the law's prohibition of virtual child pornography; that is, child pornography produced through computer imaging technology. Tragically this decision of the Court to reverse Congress's prohibition of virtual child pornography has left law enforcement at an extreme disadvantage in the campaign against all child pornography.
Today I am pleased to be joined by a bipartisan group of legislators to announce legislation that restores the ability of law enforcement to protect children from abuse and exploitation, consistent with the Constitution.
I thank House Majority Whip Tom DeLay for being here today, and for his leadership on this bill and other legislation to protect the children of America.
Senator Jeff Sessions and Senator Sam Brownback - Senator Sessions is here with us today -- and Senator Tim Hutchinson -- joined me in supporting this legislation, and I appreciate their strong leadership in the defense of children.
I thank Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, for his leadership. Chairman Smith is holding hearings today on enhancing child protection in the wake of the supreme Court's ruling, and we are grateful that he has taken time to join us in support of this legislation.
I thank Congressman Mark Foley, the co?chair of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, for his leadership. And I thank Congressman Earl Pomeroy for his support of this important measured.
We come together today to support this legislation, because the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court's ruling are very serious. The protection of virtual child pornography by the Supreme Court threatens the de facto protection of all child pornography. In a world in which virtual images are increasingly indistinguishable from reality, prosecutors are now forced to prove that sexually explicit images involving children were in fact produced through the abuse of children, an extremely difficult task in today's worldwide Internet child pornography market.
To avoid conviction, defendants frequently raise the theoretical possibility that rapidly-advancing computer imaging technology was involved in the production of the materials, rather than children.
The Court's ruling comes at a time in which, sadly, the availability of child pornography is exploding on the Internet. Recently Operation Candy Man uncovered over 7,200 child pornographers who trafficked their obscenity through a single Internet group. More alarming still is the fact that this investigation signals a strong correlation between child pornography offenders and molesters of children. In Operation Candy Man, 13 of the 90 people arrested thus far have admitted to molesting a total of 48 different children.
In this thriving market for child pornography, the Supreme Court's legalization of computer-generated child pornography has created a dangerous window of opportunity for child abusers to escape prosecution. The Department of Justice remains rock solid in its commitment to identify, investigate, and prosecute those who sexually exploit children, regardless of the difficulty involved in the prosecuting effort.
But we cannot and will not remain silent as obstacles to these prosecutions grow. The legislation we introduce today is carefully crafted to address the Supreme Court concerns, while strengthening our ability to eliminate child pornography. The Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002 re levels the playing field for prosecutors and defendants through four changes in the current law. First, the legislation tightens the definition of "child pornography," and ensures that child pornography prosecutions will not be barred merely because of the theoretical possibility that the material is created through computer imaging. At the same time, prosecutions that the Court has held violate the First Amendment will be prevented.
Second, the legislation generally prohibits the production, distribution and possession of any visual depictions, real or virtual, of prepubescent children engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Third, the legislation creates more comprehensive offenses prohibiting offers to sell or provide, and efforts to obtain child pornography, regardless of whether such depictions are actually provided or received. It also prevents child molesters from using pornography to exploit children.
Finally, the legislation establishes a secure database for identifying child pornography produced with actual children.
Once again, I thank the members of Congress who join me in support of this legislation, all of whom have worked long to protect the health and safety of children. As I indicated when the Supreme Court's decision was announced, the Department of Justice will continue to use every available resource to prosecute child pornography cases. I am gratified that these members of Congress have agreed to act, and I look forward to working with all of these members to see to it that this legislation becomes law.
Thank you. It is now my honor and my pleasure to introduce House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Tom
REP. DELAY: Thank you, general. And I am so proud of your leadership in this area, and in many areas. We have been proud of your leadership when you were in the Senate, and we ?? every day ?? cease to amaze us of taking ?? of your ability to take very strong positions, particularly when it comes to very disappointing decisions that are made by the Supreme Court.
I just want to thank you for moving swiftly to resolve this problem. We know that you are extremely busy securing the American homeland, and rounding up elements of the international terrorist networks. But you understand that this is an issue that is vitally important to the children of this country. And your involvement in this issue demonstrates the critical need to protect children from sexual predators. We need to close that loophole that permits computer depictions of child sexual abuse. We are in a war with people who exploit children for sexual purposes, and we have got to win that war. And I thank you, attorney general, for your commitment to this cause.
The Court's ruling was a huge disappointment to everyone working to protect children. The child advocates all over the country know that the consequences of this activity cause irreparable damage to children. Congress's clear intent was to ban any depiction or image of children in sexual situations.
This solution is a very important step in that direction. We will strengthen the law so that it can pass constitutional review. We greatly appreciate General Ashcroft for joining with us to develop this effective solution.
We will move a bill very quickly, and we hope that our friends in the Senate will pass it just as quickly. Millions of children are depending on us to protect them from the twisted advances of people and the evil grip of child pornography. We know that these sick and depraved images are often the catalyst of unspeakable crimes. They must be eradicated.
Our fight doesn't end with this legislation. It continues on a number of other fronts. April was Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month. May is Victims of Pornography Awareness Month. On the 25th, we will recognize National Missing Children's Day. We will be working with the Judiciary Committee and other leaders on this issue, and we will continue seeking tools to eliminate the blight of child pornography and child sexual abuse. So I thank you, general.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you, Tom DeLay. I am pleased now to introduce other individuals in the Congress who are leaders in the fight against child pornography. From the state of Alabama, Senator Jeff Sessions.
SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. And I'd just like to make a few brief remarks. I was a federal prosecutor for 12 years ?? really almost 15, counting my time as an assistant United States Attorney. And I can say with absolute confidence that aggressive prosecution of child pornography cases under the clear law established for depictions of children that has been in effect for many, many years, virtually eliminated child pornography from any pornography stores or places you would go in this country today.
The result was that the group of pornographers, and many of them pedophiles, began to share the photographs among themselves. And we had some prosecutions in my district of people who used the mail to ship material of this kind. And there were successful prosecutions.
Also, with the availability of the Internet, a trend has moved in that regard to feed the desires of people who are unhealthy. And, as a result, I think we see some continuing problems. That was a result -- the reason the '96 statute was passed -- and I think it's important now that we pass legislation to reestablish the basics of that.
Of the people that we prosecuted who were shipping photographs through the mail - virtually every one of those had a history of sexual abuse. I remember one man -- he had never had an arrest for it, but in talking with his daughter, who was in her 30s -- she had been molested as a young child, she told us, many years before.
Something about this problem creates a habituation to sexual predator acts, and is very dangerous. So I think this legislation is real important. I think if we can identify those people who are dealing in this pornography that we can identify very frequently people who are abusing sexually others. And, as a result of that, I think we can help make this a safer community for us to live in, and to identify some people who may be very dangerous people, who would take even the lives of young girls or young boys in the process of their sexual activities.
Thank you, Mr. Attorney General, for moving quickly on this. I hope we will see the same response in the Senate, Tom, as you expect in the House. I believe we will, and I look forward to working for it.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you, Senator Sessions, and thank you for your service on the Judiciary Committee of the Senate.
It is my pleasure now to introduce Tim Hutchinson, the senator from the state of Arkansas, whose interest in securing the safety for the children of America is long well documented. Senator Hutchinson.
SEN. HUTCHINSON: Thank you, General Ashcroft, and I am pleased to be here, and I want to thank you and I want to thank your legal team for crafting this legislation and moving it forward, taking the leadership role in this and giving some direction to Congress in addressing what I think all America feels is a very serious problem ?? a problem that was exacerbated by the Supreme Court decision. So I applaud your efforts.
Child molestation, child exploitation, pedophilia -- terrible problems in our country. And I believe that these virtual images feed that terrible disease of pedophilia. So this legislation I think will have broad support, and I along with Senator Sessions ask for the leadership in the Senate, and our Majority Leader Tom Daschle to make room in a very busy legislative schedule this year to ensure that this legislation moves through not just the House but the Senate -- finds its way to the president's desk before we leave this year.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you so much, Senator Hutchinson. Lamar Smith of Texas has already been signaled in my remarks as holding a hearing in regard to this matter this afternoon. It's a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for your participation and your help. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General, as well. As the attorney general has just suggested, and as Tom DeLay has suggested as well, we are going to move very quickly on this legislation. We have a hearing scheduled at two o'clock this afternoon in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building, and of course you all are invited to attend that hearing. That hearing is primarily on the implications of the Supreme Court decision. And, as a result of that decision, as the attorney general just mentioned, the administration has proposed a bill that I introduced on the House side last night. And all the House members who are here today are original co?sponsors of that legislation. And so I envision widespread support and bipartisan support for that legislation as well ?? so much so that my expectation is that we will have a hearing on the bill itself, and mark it up as soon as next week. So we expect it to be on a fast track, and with the promise of Tom DeLay that it will get to the House floor quickly. We want to do everything we can to try to address the growing problem of child pornography in America.
The situation here of course is that we need to write a bill that falls within the limitations that have been imposed upon us by that recent Supreme Court decision. I believe that this bill does that, and of course we will have hearings to that effect next week.
I have to also confess to some disappointment with the Supreme Court decision, largely because it was based upon a 1982 Supreme Court decision, the Ferber case, 20 years ago, that distinguished between real photographs -- photographs of real children and virtual images. Well, as you all know, between 1982 and today we have had the Internet age, and we now have a situation where we have the technology developed where it's almost impossible to distinguish between a real child and an image child, virtual child. And that's part of the problem that we have been presented because of the Supreme Court decision. So we are going to be looking for ways not to make it easier for child pornographers to ply their trade, but we are going to be looking for ways to prevent child pornography and prosecute those who engage in child pornography. And, as I say, I believe this legislation will do just that.
The children are probably the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to take special care to protect them and protect their interests. And as we protect their interests, we will protect our interests as well. And I appreciate being included in this news conference and being a part of the effort to pass this legislation.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. Look forward to the hearings. Mark Foley is the congressman from Florida, southern part of Florida. His interest in this matter is reflected in his chairmanship or co?chairmanship of one of the caucuses in the House that is specifically devoted to the safety of children. Congressman Foley.
REP. FOLEY: Thank you. The High Court, in siding with pedophiles over children, forced us into action. Today, united, we begin reversing the damage of that decision.
This legislation is a pedophile's worst nightmare. It virtually guarantees we are helping to protect America's children. It doesn't make a difference if the child engaged in sex is real or virtual. In other words, an old simple saying: If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it is a duck. The courts obviously didn't have a chance, as Chairman Lamar Smith suggested, to see the kind of virtual reality that is on computer terminals today. It's as close to reality as possible.
These pedophiles may have gotten a stay of execution from the Court's decision, but I
am thrilled the attorney general has acted so quickly.
Chairman Smith is calling hearings. Legislation will be marked up. And I know President Bush eagerly awaits to sign a bill that will in fact reverse the damage of last month's decision.
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you, Mark. It is my pleasure now to call upon Earl Pomeroy, congressman from North Dakota, whose interests in these matters is well understood and documented. At this time, Earl Pomeroy from North Dakota.
REP. POMEROY: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. Our nation is at a dangerous point in time with child pornography. At the very time the Internet makes distribution of this easier than ever before, and we are seeing exploding instances of distribution of child pornography on the Internet, the Supreme Court has now blew a hole in the statutes used to prosecute the production and possession of child pornography.
It was extremely important that the attorney general and the Justice Department react with speed and precision, because getting it quick isn't all we are after. We need something that will pass muster when reviewed by the Supreme Court. And so having it conform with the Constitution in all respects as seen by the justices in the First Amendment was also absolutely critical.
I believe that the work the attorney general has advanced achieves that end. I am very pleased that Chairman Smith has allowed me to co?sponsor this legislation, because there is nothing Republican or Democrat about tolerance for child pornography. It is repugnant, it is revulsive, and we intend to prohibit it in the strongest possible terms. An assistant U.S. Attorney in North Dakota has told me he has basically taken the cases that he was about to bring relative to child pornography, and put them aside ?? in light of the Supreme Court ruling, he no longer had a case. We need to put a law back on the books so these files can come back on the top, front and center, of the prosecutors' desks of this country, and we can sustain legal action against those that would harm our children in this fashion.
Q Mr. Attorney General, on a related matter, the Catholic Church seems to be struggling with this problem, or a related problem. How concerned are you that the church might be providing safe harbor to pedophiles? And have you looked into what jurisdiction you have to get into this issue?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting those who offend our children. And to the extent that the federal law is applicable, we don't make any differentiation in regard to individuals as to relation to their position in any church.
Q General, as you know, the Supreme Court decision was six to three. What specifically -- what provisions of this bill specifically do you think will turn the Court around on this issue?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we believe that we have crafted this legislation to provide a basis for the Court to honor this legislation. We don't think that this is going to turn the Court around. We think that this legislation will survive the analysis that the Court used in its previous case.
Our approach here has been crafted with what that case said in mind.
MODERATOR: Last question.
Q Attorney General, seven of the nine justices are Republican appointees, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion. I don't have Kennedy's opinion with me, but it lays out the majority's constitutional problem with the law, and more or less gives you a blueprint for solving those problems. Do you really agree with Congressman Foley that the Supreme Court sided with pedophiles over children? I mean, that's rather strong language?
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: We believe that the legislation crafted, introduced last night, which will be the subject of hearings, and is the subject of our news conference today, will pass. And we believe that it is drafted in respect to and with an understanding of the objections of the Court. And for those reasons, we believe that we will be able to again reassert our capacity to protect America's children. Thank you.