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Special Event

Ashcroft Hearings: Sen. Kennedy Questions Attorney General Nominee

Aired January 17, 2001 - 11:23 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We go from there to another confirmation hearing, that of John Ashcroft as Attorney General. This question taking place by Senator Ted Kennedy of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And, Senator, he used those words that I quoted yesterday. Senator Ashcroft used those words, besides calling James Brady, who was shot in the assassination attempt of President Reagan, a loyal Republican, distinguished citizen whose life has been battling those wounds, and you call him the leading enemy of responsible gun owners.

And then you went on, and I said that Senator Ashcroft is so far out of the mainstream, he has said citizens need to be armed in order to protect themselves against the tyrannical government in our government. Our government tyrannical? If the senator from Arizona doesn't know the difference between the British insurrection at the American Revolution and this government that has been formed under James Madison and the Constitution -- there is a significant one.

Now listen to this. Listen to what he said is -- indeed -- and this is quote. This is Senator Ashcroft. "Indeed, the Second Amendment, like the First, an important individual liberty that in turn promotes good government. A citizenry armed with the right both to possess firearms and to speak freely is less likely to fall victim to a tyrannical central government than a citizenry that is disarmed from criticizing government or defending themselves."

Listen just to what Gary Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote about that. Gary Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has written, "Listen, only a madman, one would think, can suppose that militias have a constitutional right to levy war against the United States, which is treason by constitutional definition under this."

I think this nominee owes an apology to the people of the United States for that insinuation, talking about our government now being the source of a tyrannical oppression. That's what I think, Senator. I don't retreat. I don't retreat on any one of those matters.

I could take other time, but, Mr. Chairman, I will close at this time. SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Chairman, I'll be brief, if I could as a matter of personal privilege...

KENNEDY: Well, then I'll reserve time too then...

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Following our procedure, the senator from Arizona has a chance to respond.

KYL: Simply because Senator Kennedy made some comments directly to me about matters not being important to you, Senator -- meaning to me -- I respond that all of these matters are important. It is totally appropriate to raise the issues. What I objected to was what I considered to be the mischaracterization of Senator Ashcroft's positions. And every one of my references to Senator Kennedy were direct quotations taken from the transcript. Nothing was misquoted at all.

Without getting into each of the different substantive issues, which Senator Ashcroft ought to have the opportunity to do, I simply would note here that it is important for us to raise the issues, as Senator Kennedy and others have done, to have a calm and rational discussion of all of the import of those issues with respect to Senator Ashcroft's nomination, and to carefully examine how he will apply and follow the law as attorney general.

But I think as -- primarily since most of us are lawyers here -- it's very important for us to be careful about the language that we use. And therefore, Senator Kennedy, when you say, "Well, that may be important to you, Senator," of course it's important to me. And when you talk about -- you wonder why we bring up these issues, of course it's appropriate to bring up the issues.

I'm concerned here about mischaracterization, and I would assert that when you just now suggest that Senator Ashcroft was asserting that the United States government is an tyrannical government, that that is not an accurate representation of his views under any reading of what he has said or listening to what he has said. So, I'll conclude in that.

KENNEDY: Well -- 15, 30 seconds -- these issues are perhaps painful to be examined. Perhaps they are. But they should be. They should be. Each and every one of those issues ought to be examined, Senator.

And I, with all respect, I reject -- if you don't appreciate the way that I present it, I can accept that. But I want to make it very clear that I would restate those. And I would be glad -- I won't take the chance at this time; I will on the floor of the United States Senate -- to take as much time as necessary, and it may take some time to debate those particular issues.

LEAHY: The chair is about to take a five-minute break, unless the nominee wishes to respond to any of the colloquies that have been going on between the distinguished senator from Massachusetts and the distinguished senator from Arizona.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I side with the chair.

LEAHY: I thought you might.

We're taking a five-minute recess.

KAGAN: A quick break there for the senators at the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is a confirmation hearing of John Ashcroft. Things got a little fiery there between Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

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