ad info

 
CNN.comTranscripts
 
Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  

 

  Search
 
 

 

TOP STORIES

Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's GO.com is a goner

(MORE)

MARKETS
4:30pm ET, 4/16
144.70
8257.60
3.71
1394.72
10.90
879.91
 


WORLD

U.S.

POLITICS

LAW

TECHNOLOGY

ENTERTAINMENT

 
TRAVEL

ARTS & STYLE



(MORE HEADLINES)
 
CNN Websites
Networks image


Special Event

Ashcroft Hearings: Sens. Schumer, DeWine Question Attorney General Nominee

Aired January 17, 2001 - 12:19 p.m. ET

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

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you immediately back up to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Right now Charles Schumer is questioning nominee John Ashcroft about abortion.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: And so the fact that I've proposed a constitutional amendment indicated to me that it's not something that's going to be adjusted in another way. And in so doing, that was part of a role that I had as a member of the Senate as an enactor of the law, rather than an enforcer of the law. There are lots of settled laws and there are constitutional amendments designed for the specific purpose of overturning settled laws.

I think the court has been signaling an increasing -- and this makes reference to -- I'm forgetting which of the members of the panel asked me earlier. But in its most recent case the court signaled it denied certiorari for reconsideration. And I think the Supreme has said -- that's the Stenberg case, I believe.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: That's what I think, too.

ASHCROFT: It said, we don't want to be bothered with this. Frankly, I think it is not wise to devalue the credibility of the solicitor general in taking things to the court, which the court considers settled. And that's why I explained my other answers the way I did.

SCHUMER: I appreciate the answer.

ASHCROFT: I just want to indicate that if you think I have changed to believe that aborting unborn children is a good thing, I don't. But I know what it means to enforce the law, and I know what I believe the law is here, and I believe it is settled.

SCHUMER: So let me ask you this just to follow up. So if the solicitor general came to you and you were attorney general and said I'd like to argue a case to overturn Roe -- for instance, in the Nebraska case, in the Stenberg case I think it was Justices Thomas and Scalia who, in dissent, it was just a 5-4 case, encouraged more cases to overturn the law. Would you urge the solicitor general or would you not allow the solicitor general, who would be under your jurisdiction, to bring such a case? ASHCROFT: I don't think it is the agenda of the president-elect of the United States to seek an opportunity to overturn Roe. And as his attorney general, I don't think it could be my agenda to seek an opportunity to overturn Roe.

SCHUMER: And would that apply if, let us say -- because that was a 5-4 decision, the Nebraska case, the Stenberg case. But let us say one of our Supreme Court justices stepped down and a new appointment was made and it was at least speculated or viewed that that new justice and a different -- and one of the justices who stepped down would be one of those in the five majority -- that this new justice would have a different view, would have sided with the dissent. Would you still urge the solicitor general to not bring the case?

ASHCROFT: Well, as I said before, I don't think it's the agenda of this administration to do that. And as attorney general, it wouldn't be my job to try and alter the position of this administration.

SCHUMER: Let me ask you a second one related. Let us say that Governor Thompson becomes the secretary of HHS and he seeks your legal advice on banning stem-cell research, research where we've had great divisions about, but research extremely important to hundreds of thousands of people and their families with Parkinson's Disease and other diseases. Would you urge Governor Thompson, but then Secretary Thompson, given that Roe v. Wade is settled, to continue to allow stem-cell research to continue?

ASHCROFT: I will provide him the best assessment and instruct the Department of Justice to provide him with the best assessment of the law as it exists, upon which he can base a decision within the parameters of the statutory framework guiding his activity.

SCHUMER: But pursuing that a little, sir, if I might. If you believe Roe is settled and certainly stem-cell research would fall within the confines of the first trimester, then wouldn't your advice have to be to continue stem-cell research? And why couldn't you tell us that here today?

SCHUMER: If not, then I would like to know what "Roe being settled" means.

ASHCROFT: The way I answered the question a moment ago is the way I want to answer it again, but I'll answer it in these words.

I will be law-oriented and not results-oriented. I will -- that's my pledge as I move toward the attorney general's office, and, of course, I can't make good on -- I don't want to be presumptuous. I understand that there is a confirmation process. But I will provide my best advice regarding the law, including the law as expressed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

SCHUMER: So, if -- just to pursue it a little bit further -- and I'm just trying to flesh things out here. I'm not trying to put you on the spot. These are issues of great importance to so many of us. If the legal opinion, the predominant legal opinion, was that stem-cell research was allowed, was part of the settled law of Roe, that would be your guiding light here, not an ideological belief that we shouldn't allow it?

ASHCROFT: I will give them my best judgment of the law, and, if the law provides something that is contrary to my ideological belief, I will provide them with that same best judgment of the law.

SCHUMER: OK, I'll -- I don't think I can push you any further, although I wish the answer would be a little clearer, but...

ASHCROFT: I'm just not going to issue an opinion here.

SCHUMER: I understand.

ASHCROFT: I will, with all deference, I just want to say...

SCHUMER: I made it hypothetical that, if the law would agree.

Let me go to another one. The president asks you advice whether rape victims should be allowed the right to choose -- it comes up in some context that we probably, you know -- I don't want to -- I don't think it's necessary for the purposes of this question to outline the context -- would you advise him that rape victims should continue to be allowed their right of choice even though, ideologically, you would be opposed, because, again, Roe is the settled law of the land?

ASHCROFT: If he's asking me for legal advice, I will provide him with my best judgment. It will not be results-oriented; it will be law-oriented. And I will also answer the president in private, as he has requested me to do.

And I don't want to be less than cooperative, but I don't want to try and go through a list of all the potential questions the president might ask me and try and tell in advance someone other than the president what answer he's going to get.

SCHUMER: Right, but the reason -- and I understand that and appreciate your desire to do that. Of course, though, when you say Roe is the settled law of the land, that has lots of different implications that would be quite contrary to the advocacy views that you had while you were United States senator. We would agree to that, right?

ASHCROFT: Well, it's very clear to me that the settled law of the land protects rape victims. I mean, it's clear that the settled law of the land gives virtually anyone any opportunity they want to to have an abortion. I mean, it's an unrestricted right. And I would advise him in that respect as to what the law is.

SCHUMER: Let me ask you a series now, similarly, on gun control. I was very glad to hear that you would support the continuation of the assault weapons ban which Senator Feinstein carried in the Senate and I carried in the House, so it's obviously important to me. I would just like to ask, in terms of the Second Amendment -- and while some might not believe it, I believe in the Second Amendment. I do not agree with those who think the Second Amendment should be interpreted almost in a non-existent way, just for militias, and then we should broadly interpret all the others. But, just like you can't scream "fire" in a crowded theater, that's a limitation on our First Amendment rights, there are limitations on the Second Amendment as well. And some of my friends believe there should be no limitations, and that's where I disagree with them.

But let me ask you this, these four issues, do you think any of them violate the Second Amendment: The Brady law?

ASHCROFT: No.

SCHUMER: The assault weapons ban? I think you answered that.

ASHCROFT: No.

SCHUMER: Licensing and registration, which many states obviously have now?

ASHCROFT: I don't believe that -- if the Senate were to pass it, I would defend it in court and argue its constitutionality.

SCHUMER: Argue for its constitutionality?

ASHCROFT: Yes, just so.

SCHUMER: Thank you.

Now, how about just your own personal view in a different, you know, on closing the gun show loophole, the Lautenberg amendment? I know you supported a 24-hour closing, but many of us supported a 72- hour because we thought at gun shows 24 hours wasn't enough to do an adequate check, particularly since most of them occur on the weekends. Would you support a 72-hour closing of the gun show loophole?

ASHCROFT: You know, I believe in closing the gun show loophole -- what I would like to see us do is to improve our capacity to respond to inquiries a lot more rapidly. I think it's pretty clear that, at least my personal view has been for the past several years, that we need to fully implement our ability to provide instant checking. And I think that's the best way of handling that, and I think doing that is something that is achievable. So my approach to this would be to have the department exercise as much of its energy as it can to close the loophole by virtue of improving our capacity to have instant checks that are reliable, valid and workable.

SCHUMER: I agree with you. I have no problem with InstaCheck when it's available and when it's working. But in the past, some at least have used the lack of InstaCheck availability in many states...

ASHCROFT: Full party...

SCHUMER: Let me just finish and I'll flesh out and then we'll go to the next one. Some have used the lack of availability of InstaCheck in many states to stand in the way of a law -- 72-hour law, longer waiting period, because you just couldn't get the checks out on the computer that quickly, because state records were not up to date. So again, let me repeat, if we found that in a good number of states, and it is the case, that the InstaCheck system were not yet available, would you support a 72-hour wait for closing the gun show loophole, which most of us regard as a rather modest step?

ASHCROFT: Well, the problem with 72-hour wait is that gun shows frequently last about 72 hours, and that's been a problem. In terms of saying that if you're going to provide -- no one can buy a gun, that tension, I think, is one that I'd want to respect and I'd try and accommodate that. It's not my desire to shut down this setting.

If I'm not mistaken, I might stand correction here, I think when the Juvenile Justice bill came back it had the Lautenberg amendment in it. And I think I voted for the Juvenile Justice bill in that setting and that may be an answer to that question.

SCHUMER: I think, Senator, and obviously...

ASHCROFT: On final passage.

SCHUMER: ... we don't want to hold you to every little bit, but I think it never got back from conference. Maybe Senator Leahy...

ASHCROFT: Pardon me, I didn't mean get back, I think I meant -- they're telling me I meant final passage. And on final passage, I did vote for it and it had Lautenberg in it.

May I just add this little bit?

SCHUMER: I think what may have...

(CROSSTALK)

ASHCROFT: Let's clear -- I voted for it, I think in that setting. And I'm not sure about that.

But what I am sure about is that if it's passed, I'll defend it. And I'll not only defend it, but I'll enforce it, and I'll enforce it vigorously.

SCHUMER: But in terms of your own opinion, do you think that this 72-hour check -- you voted I think, and I -- the record could correct me, as well. And I don't want to -- you know your record better than I do. I think you may have voted against the amendment, but then voted for the final bill.

ASHCROFT: I think that's correct, sir.

SCHUMER: Your staff guy is shaking his head yes.

ASHCROFT: Well, you can see him better than I can.

SCHUMER: So I would trust him. ASHCROFT: You don't have to turn around to look at him and I do. That's your hard luck, because I don't have to look at him, only in rare instances.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHUMER: So has your position evolved any on the 72-hour check?

ASHCROFT: Well, I guess what I'm saying is that my position, as I leave the enactment arena, was mixed. I probably, as a stand-alone provision, voted against it, but wasn't so opposed to it when it came back in the final product that it would stop me from voting for a very important bill. I guess that's a little bit of an academic question.

Now, the voters of Missouri settled my ability to vote on those bills when I was not re-elected to the Senate.

I would vigorously defend and enforce the measure.

SCHUMER: And almost, from point of view of argument -- it just follows from the argument, you would not recommend...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: ... And the press accounts, which I believe are accurate, said that it died because it had the gun show loophole in it. If the gun show loophole was taken out, it would be allowed to go forward. With it in, the various gun lobbies said that we would not be allowed to pass it.

And -- the senator from...

SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, to put a little spin on that a little different. Senator Hatch had a gun show loophole bill that a number of people favored. And I think it passed the first time. On a close vote, the Lautenberg amendment passed, the full Senate voted, and, as I understand it, Senator Ashcroft voted to support the Lautenberg amendment.

And it never came out of conference because that amendment was rejected by the House. The House would not accept it. And your side would not agree to any compromise, and the good Juvenile Justice bill that a lot of us worked on never came out and up for debate. And that's my view of it. But everybody has a different view.

(CROSSTALK)

HATCH: Let me add by saying that the fact of the matter is we couldn't get a consensus to pass it. It was that simple, and let's all work to try and get something done this next term.

LEAHY: Well, the fact of the matter is we never had a conference, so we couldn't seek a consensus, so we couldn't vote.

HATCH: We knew it was a waste of time.

LEAHY: I've never been able to predict votes that well.

HATCH: I've been pretty good about it.

UNIDENTIFIED: Could we have regular order, Mr. Chairman?

LEAHY: We haven't had it yet. Why should we start now?

(LAUGHTER)

The distinguished senior senator from Ohio.

DEWINE: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

Senator Ashcroft, the good news is: When you get to me, you're getting pretty close to lunch here.

Let me just say that I think most of us here can agree -- we're talking about the Juvenile Justice bill -- that 95 percent of that bill was, frankly, not very controversial. And let's hope that we can get that Juvenile Justice bill, Mr. Chairman, passed this year.

Senator, what I would like to do in the time that I have is talk about a few issues that I know are going to be coming in front of you as attorney general.

These are issues that I have a particular interest in. I think you do as well. To save time, let me go through them. There are four or five of them, and then if you could comment at the end, I think it'd probably be the simplest way to do this.

The first has to do with what is referred to as international parental kidnapping, an issue that I'm very concerned about and an issue that has gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years. And, quite frankly, to be candid, it's an area where I don't think that the current Justice Department has been aggressive enough. And this is something I have said publicly with the current attorney general and we have talked about that. And I would hope that you would be, as attorney general, more aggressive in this regard.

What are we talking about? We're talking about the situation where a U.S. citizen marries a foreign national, they have children or a child, they get divorced, sometimes they don't get divorced. One day the American citizen wakes up and the child is gone, the other parent is gone. The other parent has gone back to his or her country of origin.

I have noticed, quite frankly, this has not been a priority of the Justice Department. I would hope it would be with your Justice Department. I think it is many times an issue of neglect. It is a question of not setting the right priority. And, frankly, many times, it's a question of ignorance or just lack of understanding of the issue. I think it can be remedied by training with assistant U.S. attorneys across the country, the setting of priorities from the Justice Department and, frankly, coordination with the State Department, because it's an issue that the State Department hasn't been very aggressive in regard to either. That's number one.

Number two is an area that I know that you have worked on in the past and I have worked on the past and that is a setting of priorities for the Justice Department in regard to gun prosecutions. I'm talking now about the case where we have a convicted felon, who uses a gun or owns a gun, which is against federal law today. I would hope that the Ashcroft Justice Department would say that this is a priority and that you will go after these individuals as the Bush administration did.

A related area in regard to guns is when guns are used in the commission of a felony. To be attorney general is to, obviously, as has been said many times here, set priorities. I can't think of anything that's more important to the safety of the public than to get people who use guns in the commission of an offense off the streets. The U.S. attorney can play a very unique and special role in that regard, and I would hope that that would be one of the priorities of your administration.

A third area is what I refer to as crime technology. It's an area that I've been involved in for, frankly, over a decade now.

It is very simple, it is very basic, but it's very important. And that is to make sure that we drive the resources down to local law enforcement, so that not just the FBI but that local law enforcement has access to the good DNA work, has access to automated fingerprints, had access to ballistic comparisons and has access to good criminal records. This is the basics of law enforcement.

It is something where the federal government can play a unique role because only the federal government really can give the assistance to all local jurisdictions with the understanding that what happens in Xenia, Ohio, and whether or not we put our records into the system, whether or not we have a good automated fingerprint system, frankly, will affect the ability of the Missouri police to solve a crime, if that defendant happens to go from Xenia to St. Louis.

This is an area that you've been involved in, I've been involved in. We passed a bill several years ago that you supported, that I wrote, to provide an umbrella as far as authorization to get this done.

And, quite candidly, I will just ask you to comment on that and hope that when it comes time to present your budget, you would look at that very favorably, because I think it is basic law enforcement that will in fact make a difference.

The fourth area is the issue of mental health. We are seeing more and more people in our criminal justice system who have mental health problems. It is something that every law enforcement officer in this country understands and knows about. Part of it has to do with the deinstitutionalization that has occurred in the last few decades, part of it is the nature of society, but it's something that I think in our criminal justice system we have to address.

We were able to pass last year a bill that I was involved in writing which has to do with providing some assistance to local courts in regard to mental health. I wonder if you could address that one?

And, finally, I will go back to an issue that has been raised by Senator Kohl -- it's also been raised by Senator Grassley and several of my other colleagues -- and that has to do with the antitrust enforcement.

As you know, I am the chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, ranking member is Senator Kohl. I guess that means Senator Kohl is the chairman this week. He and I have worked very, very closely together on antitrust issues. We think they're very, very important. We think that ultimately they determine our ability to compete in the world and our ability -- one of the things that makes us different as a country from other countries is that we have good antitrust laws.

I am particularly concerned, and I'm not going to ask you to comment about this, because I know that this is something you're going to have to study and I also know it's something you're going to have to work with whoever is the new head of the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department.

But I am very concerned about the consolidation in the aviation industry. This is something I think we have to look at. It is, I think, a potential direct threat to consumers when we are talking about getting down to potentially just three, possibly, major airlines in this country, four. We have some real competition issues.

So I would just use this opportunity again not to ask you to comment on it really, because I don't think it's fair for you to comment at this point, but just maybe to put you on notice, this is something that I'm going to be looking at. We're going to hold hearings on our Antitrust Subcommittee within the next few weeks. And we're going to take a very, very close look at that.

So, John, those are five issues that I think clearly you're going to be dealing with; five issues that I think, as the attorney general, you will be confronting. And I would just like for maybe some brief comments in the time you have remaining to tell us maybe some thoughts about each one of those.

ASHCROFT: Thank you, Senator DeWine.

I must say that, starting with the first issue, the international parental kidnapping problem is one that you have highlighted and you have brought to the attention of America in ways that have been very helpful, I think. Many of us would be in a circumstance not to be very affected by this, and it would be an easy thing to just I suppose overlook. I commend you for your work there.

I would be very pleased to work with you in this respect. And the idea of making sure that where inter-agency cooperation could be beneficial either through the Department of State or other departments of the government to remedying these tragic circumstances, this is the -- since it's not as prevalent as some other problems, I guess some folks don't view it as a serious problem. It reminds me a little bit of Ronald Reagan's definition of a recession. In a depression, it's a recession. If your neighbor loses his job, it's a depression. If you lose your job, if it's your child here, this becomes a national issue very quickly.

And I thank you and look forward to working with you on it. And to the extent that we could enlist other aspects of the federal bureaucracy and the government to act with us to do what's right, I'm very pleased to confer with you.

Gun prosecution: The prosecution of gun violence is very important to me because I think it's essential to public safety. What I think we have is clear indication and evidence that, if we prosecute gun crimes, we have the greatest effect in elevating the safety and security of citizens in this country. And it's one thing to have a law on the books that prohibits certain kinds of gun purchases, and if you have hundreds of thousands of gun purchases that are denied because of it, but then you don't prosecute the people who are denied the purchase for making the illegal attempt, we really haven't done anything but force them into the illegal market.

If my memory serves me correctly, there is an Indiana situation where someone had attempted to make an illegal purchase, not prosecuted. Went into the illegal market, acquired a firearm and shot an African-American individual leaving church. That case sticks in my mind.

I think the context of the gun purchase requirements are very important. In a technical sense, those are against the law, and they're criminal acts.

But people who actually perpetrate crimes using guns, obviously, need to be a focus for enforcement effort. The most famous of these is the Project Exile, at least for me -- best known for me. If you can drive across the river here, you see the billboard that says you're on notice if you use a gun in the commission of a crime, elevated penalties are going to be a consequence for you.

And it's not just in Richmond, Virginia. I worked hard when I was a member of the Senate to get special funding, additional funding, for U.S. Attorney Audrey Flyseck (ph) in St. Louis, because she has a project called Project Ceasefire. I can't answer, for the details of all these projects, but I think it's largely the same thing. You deal affirmatively, aggressively and constructively to say, we will prosecute those who commit crimes using firearms.

Third issue -- and I look forward to that -- I think is the crime technology issue. During my time as governor and attorney general, we sought through the creation of agencies and capacity capability in our state the ability to integrate our effort in a national coordination of data so that we could apprehend criminals.

This is a matter of great concern to me because our society is so mobile. And it even has concerned me as it relates to juveniles, because in my home state of Missouri our population is focused on the borders. Kansas City is one of the two largest cities; St. Louis is the other. And we share those borders with other states, and people move back and forth across those borders and the interstate. Availability of information is a very important thing. And to have it available -- that kind of moving from one jurisdiction can take place on a bicycle.

But criminal activity can move from one part of the county to another part of the county now very easily. And whether it's AFIS, an automated fingerprint identification system, or whether it's the next generation, I think, with DNA identification, and frankly, I think, not only for the apprehension of criminals, but for the establishment of innocence and guilt with greater certainty, I think these are very important matters that relate to civil liberties as well, that I think it's for our system to elevate the integrity and the likelihood that we get the truth when we make a conclusion very important.

The mental health area is an important area. Immediately I thought of Senator Feinstein's comprehensive methanphetomine antiproliferation measure, which he and I had the privilege of working together on. It's a $55 million program but there was -- a significant part of that was for treatment. When I talk to the prosecutors and the justice officials at the state and local level, they tell me that 70-80 percent of all the people that we incarcerate for criminal behavior committed crimes because they were involved with drugs, substance abuse of one kind or another. I think if we don't understand that remediation of that particular problem is part of this and that it's a mental health-related aspect of this, I think we're kidding ourselves. That's why I was pleased in the measure that we cosponsored and was passed that we had an attention to that aspect of things.

Last but not least, and I hope I've given these items the direct level of attention, you talk about the Antitrust Division. I will urge the president to appoint an individual who has a capacity to work well in this area.

MESERVE: Right now you're looking at the president-elect, George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush. They're in Midland, Texas. This is the send-off rally. They are leaving Texas today and heading to Washington for the inaugural festivities.

Meanwhile, confirmation hearings continuing in Washington for John Ashcroft.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ASHCROFT: ... because the advise and consent function of the Senate is operative there, and certainly I would welcome your input and the opportunity to confer with you about making a constructive response to that challenge.

DEWINE: Senator, thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

LEAHY: Do you have anything else?

DEWINE: No, that's fine. Thank you.

LEAHY: Incidentally, some of the press have asked if there's anything symbolic about being in the Caucus Room. I don't mean to deflate anything, but it is more the luck of the draw. We started a system of having committee rooms; the Rules Committee, as Senator Ashcroft knows, assigns where you go.

There is a -- I think they do it by computer. But in any event, the Foreign Relations Committee, which will be hearing General Powell's nomination, needed a large room. There had been some public and press attention to this hearing, which indicated the need for a large room. We both asked for a large room. This one was being used yesterday for something else. Long way around to say that it's coincidence that we are here. I don't want anyone to draw else wise from it.

I would ask our colleagues, Senator Collins from Maine, and our former colleague, Senator Danforth, to come forward and join Senator Ashcroft at the table, as I announced earlier.

Once they have finished their statements, and any questions that there may be from them, and we will then break for lunch. When we break for lunch, it will be a one-hour break.

Senator Collins, please, go ahead.

COLLINS: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of this distinguished committee. I'm pleased to be here today on behalf of my friend John Ashcroft. And I thank those hearty few who have remained to hear my testimony before you break for lunch.

Let me begin by saying that if I were to tell the members of this committee that I had a candidate for attorney general who had attended one of the nation's finest undergraduate institutions and law schools, and had served for eight years as state attorney general, eight years as a governor, and six years as a United States senator, I doubt there would be much by way of concern about that candidate's professional experience.

Similarly, if I were to point out that this candidate was also an individual of tremendous integrity and high personal values, there would be little doubt that the candidate met the ethical standards for the position.

That is exactly the case that we have here with John Ashcroft. Nevertheless, his nomination has generated a controversy noteworthy for its intensity. Given John's record of public service and his personal integrity, it is fair to conclude that the genesis of this controversy is his political philosophy.

Concerns have been raised that John is simply too conservative to enforce the laws with which he disagrees. In responding to these concerns, let me first make clear that I have disagreed strongly with John on a number of issues.

Our views on abortion rights, among many other issues, are far apart. But I have absolutely no doubt that John will fully and vigorously enforce the laws of the United States regardless of his personal views. He not only has given me personal assurances but also has testified under oath before this committee that he will do so.

This situation is not unique to John Ashcroft. Virtually every attorney general has had to enforce laws with which he or she has disagreed. Our most recent attorney general is no exception, as Senator Thurmond has pointed out. Despite her personal opposition to the death penalty, Attorney General Reno has approved federal death penalty prosecutions in 176 cases. Moreover, a fair examination of John's record shows that, both as attorney general and as governor of Missouri, John has enforced and acted in support of laws with which he has personally disagreed.

Several examples of this have already been provided to the committee on issues ranging from abortion to gambling. Ultimately, this question comes down to our assessment of how John will exercise his judgment. Will he use his discretion wisely, fairly, and appropriately? I would suggest to this committee that the best proof we have that he would do so can be found in the decisions that John made last November. The circumstances surrounding the Missouri election are well-known to all of us. The significance of the seat to the composition of the Senate is obvious. That's why I'm addressing Senator Leahy as Mr. Chairman today.

And the determination with which John campaigned demonstrated how intent he was on winning this race. And yet, when tragedy intervened at the end of the campaign, John acted in a manner that we can all admire, and that was a testament to his good judgment.

John could have pursued a legal remedy for which he had strong grounds.

After all, the Constitution sets forth just three requirements for a United States senator, and the third is particularly relevant in this case. It expressly states that no person shall be a senator who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen. This constitutional requirement would have given John grounds to contest the election, and many legal experts contend he would have prevailed in court.

Despite his fervent desire to win and despite the fact that the court system was there to provide him with an avenue to continue his quest, John chose not to pursue legal action. Instead, he used his discretion to act in a manner that showed compassion to the family of a political rival and concern for the people of his state -- an exercise of discretion that was clearly contrary to his personal, political interest.

Like many Americans, I was deeply moved watching John's speech when he announced that he was conceding the election and that he hoped that the late Governor Carnahan's victory would provide a measure of comfort for his grieving family.

Despite the proliferation of the rhetoric surrounding this nomination, I hope that the American people will have the opportunity to learn about the John Ashcroft whom I know. The dignity and compassion exemplified in that graceful act last November displayed the essence of the man with whom we served in this great body.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, in your courtesy in allowing me to appear before the committee today. LEAHY: I thank my neighbor from New England and I will assure her that while I appreciate the appellation of Mr. Chairman, I'm making sure I don't get too used to it.

(LAUGHTER)

And my former colleague, the senator from Missouri, Senator Danforth.

DANFORTH: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify.

I would like to address the one question that has come up repeatedly in these hearings and repeatedly in the media, and that is whether John Ashcroft's philosophical views, whether his political views would in any way circumscribe his ability and willingness to execute faithfully the responsibilities of attorney general of the United States.

And I would like to speak from 30 years, roughly 30 years, of knowing John Ashcroft. I have known him since before he ever got into politics, before he held any public office. John and I and Kit Bond were in Missouri politics, in Missouri government, when we were in our early 30s. And all three of us were holding public office for a time, Kit as governor and John as state auditor and I as attorney general. And we were the reform movement in state government.

And I want to tell you what the nature of that reform was, because I think that it sheds light on the basic question before the committee as to John's ability to faithfully execute his responsibilities.

What we inherited in state government was the old- fashioned spoils system; what we inherited was government that was based on politics. And we began, starting with the state attorney general's office -- much smaller, of course, than the Justice Department, but really a comparable office -- we began to reform the very nature of state government.

And the reform was that instead of hiring people on the basis of their politics, we would hire people on the basis of their ability. And we would require a day's work for a day's pay. And we would ask people only to interpret and enforce the law. And we would not impose political views on them.

So we didn't ask people what their politics were. And I have spoken to a law partner of mine who worked for John Ashcroft and asked him whether the rule that I had when I was state attorney general was the same as John Ashcroft's. And indeed it was. He said he told me about a colleague of his in the attorney general's office who admitted to John, "I'm a Democrat." And John said to him, "That's not relevant to this."

Now, I think that this an important point to make because it seems to me that someone who is just absolutely bent on superimposing his political views on an office would at least ask people about their politics before he hired them. And John did not do that. DANFORTH: And then in the operation of the office itself, the same law partner of mine, who served with John, circulated a letter that was addressed to Senator Hatch, and I want to submit the letter for the record. It's signed by 18 people who served as lawyers on John Ashcroft's staff.

And the lawyer who circulated the letter told me he could have gotten many more signatures, but he got 18 and sort of ran out of time. But here is the letter that he addressed to Senator Hatch.

"Dear Senator Hatch: The undersigned are former assistant attorneys general for the state of Missouri, who served in that capacity during John Ashcroft's tenure as Missouri attorney general. We are writing to state for the record that, during our time in these positions, John Ashcroft never interfered with our enforcement or prosecution of the law and never imposed his personal political beliefs on our interpretation or administration of the law we were entrusted to enforce."

That's how he operated that attorney general's office, and I have no doubt that he would do the same in the Justice Department.

I think it has already been referenced in this hearing, but it is, I think, a very good example of how John approached his job in Jefferson City. In 1979, then Missouri Attorney General Ashcroft issued a legal opinion on whether religious material could be distributed on property of public schools, his opinion clearly distinguished between his personal views and his legal analysis. He wrote, "While the advance of religious beliefs is considered by me and I believe by most people to be desirable, this office is compelled by the weight of the law to conclude that school boards may not allow the use of public schools to assist in this effort."

So for John, the weight of the law determined his conduct in office, and not his personal thoughts about desirable actions.

Finally, I'd like to say this based on 30 years of knowing this person: I think it was Senator Schumer who asked yesterday, you know, after all this history as a member of the Senate and fighting all these battles, how can you turn it off as attorney general? I think the same kind of question is asked to a lot of lawyers. If you're a lawyer, how do you turn off your personal feelings? How do you discharge your responsibility zealously to represent a client? It's a matter really of legal ethics, and it's a matter of how the system works.

But when John Ashcroft yesterday in that very dramatic moment raised his hand and said, "When I swear to uphold the law, I will keep my oath, so help me God," I would say to the committee that any of us might disagree with John on any particular political or philosophical point, but I don't know of anybody, and I've not known anybody in the 30 years I've known this person who has questioned his integrity. That is a given. And when he tells this committee and tells our country that he is going to enforce the law, so help him God, John Ashcroft means that.

That's exactly what he's going to be doing.

So I think that the answer to the question, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, would his political or philosophical views circumscribe his responsibility to execute faithfully the duties of the office of attorney general of the United States, the answer, in my mind, is absolutely certain: He would in no way superimpose his views on the duties of that office.

LEAHY: Thank you, Senator Danforth. And you've had the unique opportunity of testifying in a nomination hearing twice now in this committee room -- once as a senator and, second, as a former senator.

Are there any questions of either of the senators? Any questions either side?

MESERVE: And you've been listening to the Ashcroft confirmation hearings.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

 Search   


Back to the top