Jul 23, 2020
Melania Trump & White House Task Force Briefing Transcript Protecting Native American Children July 23
The White House Task Force held a briefing about the protection of Native American children on July 23. Read the transcript here.
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Melania Trump: (00:00)
…. task force to give an overview of your work and your recommendations. Thank you.
Trent Shores: (00:10)
Good morning. Thank you so much for having the task force here today. It is our humble honor to get to present to you our recommendations and findings as a result of the work that this amazing group of people, civil servants, that work in a variety of capacities and our great government did over the last several months. I think that the President’s mission, as given to us, was one that champions the priority of your Be Best Campaign, which is to promote the health and wellbeing of children. And as this task force traveled throughout the United States and visited Indian reservations and as we looked at Indian Health Service clinics, what we found was dedicated employees for the IHS who were frustrated by institutional inefficiency, bureaucratic red tape, and a lack of clarity when it came to policies that pertain to the reporting of suspected physical and sexual abuse of children.
Trent Shores: (01:23)
When I received a call over a year ago from Joe Grogan here at the White House, it was a really interesting conversation because it impacted me. He had just spoken with the President who had learned about a doctor who worked at IHS, who was a predatory pedophile pediatrician. And what the report revealed was that this doctor for years had left a legacy of victims, child sexual abuse victims. Now since that time, that doctor was investigated, he was successfully prosecuted by two United States attorney’s offices, one in Montana and one in South Dakota. But that was the beginning of our work was looking at how it was that a monster like that could be allowed to work for the United States for such a long period of time. And for folks who had suspicions about his criminal acts and his exploitation of children, how could he continue to serve in any capacity and move from IHS clinic to IHS clinic, giving him more and more victims?
Trent Shores: (02:51)
I think that the President’s creation of this task force transcends politics. The idea of protecting children is, I think, not just a moral obligation, it’s a righteous one. And the mission that he gave us wasn’t just about good governance, I think it was about government accountability to the people, especially a group of people that historically have been marginalized. And the President recognized that and directed this group to go in and ask the tough questions and to follow wherever the evidence may lead no matter how inconvenient. And what we found was that there were years, decades of systemic institutional problems that led to an environment where a predatory pedophile could take advantage of government inefficiencies and confusion to sexually abuse children.
Trent Shores: (03:52)
We, as a task force, stood up for those children by asking those tough questions. We visited Oklahoma first and we gathered there on the Muskogee Creek Nation Reservation and met with tribal officials. We visited New Mexico. We visited the DZ Clinic and a tribal school where we were on the Navajo Nation Reservation. We then went to Montana and visited the Blackfeet Nation, which was one of the primary reservations and areas impacted by Dr. Weber’s criminal, sexual exploitation of children. And we talked with Tribal Chairman Tim Davis about how that had impacted the community. We talked with Bureau of Indian Affairs officials about their law enforcement capacity and the understanding that folks on the ground had about their reporting obligations when they suspected child sexual abuse.
Trent Shores: (04:51)
We then visited the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and concluded our task force work by coming to Washington to meet with policy experts and stakeholders. And at the end of the day, what we learned was the Indian health Service needed more uniforms policies that applied to the reporting of child sexual abuse. That they needed to institute better and more frequent training of their employees to ensure that their employees understood what their reporting obligations were.
Trent Shores: (05:25)
We also though couldn’t just address reporting. We realized that there were larger systemic problems like IHS’s ability to recruit and retain top healthcare professionals and to properly vet them through a credentialing and licensing committee. We sadly learned that there were times when even though a doctor’s background appeared problematic, that a licensing committee would still accept them into their hospital and into their community because of the overwhelming need. And we saw that in part with somebody like Dr. Weber who, although folks had suspicions and had allegations that he was a pedophile, people were afraid to come forward because he was one of the few pediatricians that they had. And the reporters, the people who suspected that he was doing what he was doing, didn’t want to be the person responsible for getting rid of one of the few pediatricians they had for that community.
Trent Shores: (06:27)
That is a choice that no American should have to make. And I am thankful and confident that under President Trump’s leadership and Secretary Azar and Rear Admiral Weahkee at IHS, that we can implement the changes recommended by the task force. I want to ask before we continue each of the task force members to introduce themselves to you, to tell you a little bit about their background and the important role that they played. We formed our task force like a multidisciplinary team.
Trent Shores: (07:07)
I’m a career prosecutor, I’ve worked for the Department of Justice since I got out of law school. And my primary area of responsibility was crimes in Indian Country. I’m a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. So to greet you, I would say [foreign language 00:07:22]. And it was an honor for me to get to be a prosecutor that worked with Indian country and victims of violent crime. We know that Native American women and children are sadly overrepresented in the victim class when it comes to violent crime in our country. And so a multidisciplinary approach, which is what I used as a prosecutor, was how we approached this because you bring different perspectives together so that you can have a more holistic view when you’re not only assessing the problem, but developing solutions.
Trent Shores: (07:58)
So first I’d like to ask Shannon Cozzoni to introduce herself. Shannon…
Trent Shores: (08:02)
… Kizone to introduce herself. Shannon, if you would.
Shannon Kizone: (08:06)
Thank you, Trent. My name is Shannon Kizone and I am a tribal liaison and AOSA in the Northern district of Oklahoma. I started my career as an assistant district attorney in a small County in Oklahoma. And then I was a tribal prosecutor for the Muskogee Creek Nation for several years before I came to the US Attorney’s Office. So my experience is tribal state and federal prosecution. In each one of those, I have certainly done plenty of child cases and it was no surprise to see reporting was an issue.
Shannon Kizone: (08:47)
What surprised me with the task force was that the professionals we were dealing with, lack of understanding on how to report supervisors and doctors, for instance, those in authority. And that was one of I think, my key takeaways. We’ve got to have better reporting. We have to have reporting. It is key to protecting that child and getting that child in a safe environment, but it is also incredibly key to get early reporting so that we get these cases in the hands of individuals like Kurt and Bo, investigators and forensic interview like Stephanie.
Stephanie Knapp: (09:34)
Thank you. Good morning. My name is Stephanie Knapp. I’m a licensed clinical social worker. Currently, I’m a child and adolescent forensic interviewer for the FBI. I’ve worked just shy of 30 years in child protection. I started my career as a child protection worker in Colorado. Was then the co-director of the camp child protection team at Children’s Hospital. I became a contractor for the FBI to train primarily in Indian country in 2001, and then became a full time employee at the FBI for protecting children as a licensed clinical social worker. I have been amazed at the work that this task force and the people in the communities that we work for, tribal communities, native communities, and the work that is being done with the very few resources that are available.
Stephanie Knapp: (10:35)
And I think the message that I continue to provide to our agents, to our tribal officers, to our child protection workers out in the field is that we continue to do more with less, but that we are absolutely not going to lower our standards or expectations because of where we are and what we do in those communities. And I think that the passion that drives the work is really from the heart, and it’s really about protecting children. Because there is no greater resource than our children, and we have to continue to expect more from the people that are there and to expect more, I think, nationally and globally for our children, our native children and communities. So thank you for having us.
Melania Trump: (11:26)
Thank you for great job. Thank you.
Bo Leech: (11:28)
I’ll go, Madame First Lady. My name is Bo Leech. I too, am a member of the Choctaw nation of Oklahoma. I am the Southeast region agent in charge for the Bureau of Indian Affairs office adjusted services, branch of criminal investigations. I’m in my 34th year of law enforcement. I currently office in Oklahoma. I think the key takeaway I got from our work was that we were looking at an organization that was operating on a different model than any other organization I’ve ever been associated with or looked at. That they actually were delegating the management responsibility to the absolute lowest level without training the lowest level in management training. The lack of training in reporting and no national standards, I think was the biggest takeaway for me.
Melania Trump: (12:39)
Thank you. Thank you. You did a great job.
Trent Shores: (12:42)
So those are our task force members, and then there’s two that were unable to join us today. One was Dr. Kaitlin Hall. Dr. Hall actually works for IHS, she’s a pediatrician and she works at the DZ clinic that we visited. And so she was unable to join today, because she’s out working today, actually testing children, I believe at a school on or near the Navajo nation. Also Farnoosh Marian, who works for the office of management and budget. They both provided wonderful expertise and insights to help us understand as we developed recommendations, what it is or how those might fit into the current structure. But following the president’s direction, as well as I like to say, our fixer in chief, how it is that we could be bold with some of our ideas and truly deliver a better healthcare product, but also protect citizens and children, in particular.
Trent Shores: (13:42)
So you’ve heard we have law enforcement, we have a child forensic interviewer. We had a career prosecutor. And so much of this would not have been possible were it not for the great efforts of Kurt Mueller, and I want to introduce him because Kurt, while not a member of our task force was a really important contributor to it. Kurt was, or is an investigator, a special agent with the Health and Human Services office of the inspector general. And the two trials that I mentioned earlier of Dr. Webber, it is Kurt who was the lead investigator that assisted in the prosecutions of Dr. Webber. So Kurt, if you would take a minute and just tell us what it is that you learned from your investigation and the role as you know that you played, that was so important to our taskforce.
Kurt Mueller: (14:35)
Thank you. And good morning, First Lady. Appreciate you hosting us here at the White House today. And US attorney Shores, thank you for having me today and the great work we’ve been able to do with the task force and support the task force. I’ve got approximately 30 years of law enforcement experience, 10 years working in state government and the last 20 years with the US Department of Health in the office of Inspector General. And I’m currently the special agent in charge of the Kansas City region, which has the states that we spoke about Montana and South Dakota, in this case. I’ve worked with the Indian Health Service, we’ve done cases with oversight over the Indian Health Service for the last 20 years that I’ve been present. And we’ve been able to flush a lot of these things out during this task force that goes to lack of reporting and the fear that employees have to speak up.
Kurt Mueller: (15:21)
They fear speaking up because of retaliation. They’re small communities, many people are related. And even if there’s egregious crimes that are present, they’re scared to bring those up. They’re scared to be wrong and they’re scared to be outed in those positions. We have worked with the Indian health service to educate employees along the way, talk about whistleblower protections that they can speak up, that they will be protected in these scenarios, but yet many still fear that. And we’ll continue to work with those folks in those environments, this taskforce has some great recommendations also on training and having outside trainers. Not just folks that work in the Indian health service that can come in and talk about being able to move forward and speak of these unspeakable things that have happened.
Kurt Mueller: (16:03)
… move forward and speak of these unspeakable things that have happened. This case with Dr. Weber, to the best of our ability, we’ve identified that the sexual abuse at least started in 1992, going that far back. If someone would have stepped up at that point and stopped it, we may not be in this room today talking about this and talking about the things that have taken place. So it’s so important on that reporting that we get reporting in place, that we educate the individuals that it’s okay to report, how to report, so that we can stop these things before we have decades of sexual abuse of kids that’s in place. And from our office, we continue to work those investigations. And Dr. Weber’s not the only individual, the only doctor within the Indian Health Service who had been indicted and charged with sexual abuse. And we continue to work those cases with our partners in the Department of Justice, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and others for the bright positive results for these kids. Thank you.
Trent Shores: (17:00)
Kurt said some really important things there that I want to follow up on before I recognize Santee, and it’s empowering people to speak about the unspeakable. We should all want to step forward and protect children. When I said that, that transcends party lines, politics. It is the right thing to do, but it’s a tough subject to talk about, especially in a small community, as Kurt noted. We, as a task force, looked at the setting up and recommended the National Hotline. Somewhere under whistleblower protection so to speak where somebody could come forward without fear of retribution. And that’s just as important for members of the community, as it is for say a nurse who may have suspicions about a doctor. There is a relationship there, a hierarchy within the clinic, and there needs to be some way that they all feel free to come forward and report suspected child abuse.
Trent Shores: (18:05)
And then for some authority to intervene, not to sit on that information and let it play out where you have decades of victims. So we certainly commend the work that that Kurt did, along with the assistant US attorneys in those two offices to hold accountable Dr. Weber. But as he said, this was not an isolated incident. The task force was not so bold as to think that we could stop all child sexual abuse. Sadly, there is evil in this world, but we wanted to mitigate the possibility that it could happen by recommending things like better background checks, more frequent background checks, a better system to capture complaints. And if there was a tragic incident in which that did occur, that there were means of reporting. And there were means of accountability.
Trent Shores: (19:04)
And I think, again, that goes back to good government. It goes back to, with regard to our Native American populations in the United States, the federal government’s trust responsibility, not just in the criminal and public safety arena, but also in the public health arena. It is our affirmative obligation to honor those treaties and to uphold that trust responsibility to Native American communities throughout this country. One of those communities that we visited was the Navajo Nation, as I mentioned earlier, and Santee Lewis is here representing the Navajo Nation today. She is the executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington, D.C. Office. And Santee, if you’d like to make a few remarks on behalf of the nation, we’d be honored.
Santee Lewis: (20:00)
[inaudible 00:20:00] Good morning, First Lady. US Attorney Shores, thank you for this wonderful opportunity. [Navajo 00:04:16]. Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself in the Navajo language.
Santee Lewis: (20:19)
The Navajo Nation was heartened to learn of the convening of this task force. Dr. Caitlin Hall at the [inaudible 00:20:34] or DC Health Center in Shiprock, New Mexico was a participant on the task force and there was no resource more vital and precious to the continued existence and cultural integrity of the [inaudible 00:20:47] people than our children. Their protection, education, and healthcare are top priorities for the administration of President Jonathan Nez, the Navajo Nation Council, and the Navajo people. We recognize the United States government’s responsibility to protect Native American children, particularly those who depend on the framework established to address healthcare needs of the American Indian people.
Santee Lewis: (21:13)
The findings of the task force are important to us as they address long standing issues at the Indian Health Service. And we hope it results in safer service delivery and accessibility for our people. Our children are faced with numerous challenges, including a lack of infrastructure that empowers them to learn on digital platforms and availability of programs and initiatives that present physical, emotional, and recreational opportunities that most American families access easily. Nevertheless, we are proud of the accomplishments of our youth and younger children and pleased to know that the issues of abuse in the IHS are being addressed. On behalf President Nez and Vice President Lazar, I would like to express our appreciation for the work of the task force. We look forward to working as a sovereign tribal nation with the United States government toward a greater protection of Native American children. Thank you.
Trent Shores: (22:21)
[Navajo 00:22:21] Santee. I want to welcome questions as well that anyone may have about our work, about what we saw. I do want to say from the very beginning, from the day that the president gave this task force, its mission, this task force was not shy. It got out there and did its job, but we’ve been particularly thankful of the support that we received from senior leadership at the White House. We had the opportunity to meet with Kellyanne Conway, with Brooke Rollins, with others early in this process to provide an update on what it is that we were doing. Ima Doyle, thank you so much. Your leadership and help in not just helping us navigate the channels here in Washington, D.C., were helpful to help support the mission that we were working hard to accomplish, as given to us by the president. I’ll close it with this. I’ve been thinking about the important work that the task force did. Our founding fathers championed certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right? And the very first one, life. That is what the men and women at IHS do is they promote health, wellbeing, and fundamentally life. And that is critical for Native Americans throughout our country to receive those services. And they ought to be able to go to those clinics to receive-
Trent Shores: (24:03)
… to be able to go to those clinics, to receive the healthcare that they so desperately need without fear that they’re putting their children in harm’s way. And I think that the men and women of IHS, as well as the men and women of law enforcement who work hand in glove with them when there are allegations are deserving of our praise and our thanks, but also our support in the sense that we can be better. We can do a better job of protecting those children by adopting the recommendations of this task force. So I thank you for this opportunity to be here this morning, and we’d welcome the opportunity to clarify anything or answer any questions about what it is that we saw on the ground. Thank you.
Santee Lewis: (24:52)
Thank you all very much for your work that you are doing. And I’m so impressed by how thoughtful you have been with your reports. And I know that this work will help to keep children safe. I’m so glad that you have taken the time to work hand in hand with the tribal leaders during this process and to listen to their input. Now, I would like to ask maybe Kellyanne to say a few words and then follow with Emma and Stephanie, and then we could discuss and have some questions and go really into the details. Thank you.
Thank you so much, First Lady Trump. Thank you. Mr. Shores, when you first came last year, I said very clearly to you, you’ve been here before, so what can we do so that the abuse and the fright is no more? There’s no question in my mind that previous administrations cared very much about the children of this country, including in our native lands, but you have come again and again and again, asking for the same solutions. So I made a commitment to you then that anything we can do-