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Lott calls Justice Department 'cesspool,' Ashcroft foes 'extremists'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, called the Justice Department a "cesspool" on Wednesday and labeled some Democrats who have led the opposition to the nomination of John Ashcroft to head the agency as "extremists."

Lott called the Justice Department a "cesspool," and hopes Ashcroft can "clean it up and enforce the laws that really do need to be enforced"  

Lott made the comment at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon in response to a question about delays in the confirmation process for Ashcroft, a conservative Republican defeated for re-election to the Senate.

"If there is a cesspool anywhere in this city," Lott said, "it is the Justice Department. And I'd like for John to try and clean it up and enforce the laws that really do need to be enforced."

The Justice Department declined to comment on Lott's remarks, which came after Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled a vote on Ashcroft's nomination for a week to give the nominee more time to respond to 368 questions from members seeking to clarify his positions on everything from anti-trust issues to abortion.

The nominations of most of the other Cabinet appointees of President George W. Bush are breezing through confirmation. And despite opposition to Ashcroft, observers from both parties predict he will be confirmed.

About a dozen Bush administration appointees have arrived in the Justice Department to pave the way for a rapid transition of power. GOP officials are working with acting Attorney General Eric Holder -- a temporary holdover from the Clinton administration -- and his staff in advance of the expected Senate confirmation of Ashcroft.

Lott condemned some of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee as extremists for some of the more pointed opposition to Ashcroft's nomination.

"I was disturbed and shocked a little bit by the tone in the Judiciary Committee," he said. "I guess I shouldn't have been shocked. That extreme left is there, has been there and I guess will be there. I thought that two or three of the senators, without naming names, went over the top in some of the opposition."

Lott's comments came several minutes after he noted an improvement in the overall tone of political interaction in Washington since President Bush was elected.

He also said he agreed with comments by Banking Committee chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, that the size of Bush's proposed plan to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion over 10 years could actually get bigger as Democrats chip in with tax reduction ideas of their own.

CNN producer Brad Wright contributed to this report


Wednesday, January 24, 2001



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