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CNN Today

Ashcroft Hearing: Attorney General Nominee Faces Second Day of Tough Questioning

Aired January 17, 2001 - 1:08 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: Confirmation hearings for Attorney General-designee John Ashcroft are today in their second day.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is keeping track of those proceeding, and they've been interesting -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Interesting, particularly when I think you could characterize John Ashcroft as somebody if he wasn't a boxer, he should be, because he's been doing a lot of bobbing and weaving today, getting unruffled, trying to stay untouched by the various punches that the Democrats or his adversaries are trying to throw at him.

And some of them have been fairly intense. There was a moment, for instance, when Senator Edward Kennedy, who's been a very aggressive questioner, was speaking to another member of the panel and talking about Ashcroft's statement that he made one time that, in fact, freedom of expression and the right to own a gun can protect people against the "tyrannical government." This caused Senator Kennedy to go very, very aggressively at Senator Ashcroft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

He's speaking to Senator Jon Kyl, Kyl who had suggested to him, Senator Kennedy, that, in fact, he'd gone overboard -- my expression, not his -- on his criticisms of Senator Ashcroft and, of course, Ashcroft's remarks.

Now, Ashcroft, as I said, has remained unruffled through all this, repeatedly making the point that he has a public record of defending positions when he is an attorney general or a governor, or would be an attorney general, defending positions that he has spoken out against very vigorously when he has been in a legislating role, such as a senator. He harked back, for instance, to when he was Missouri attorney general and some of the religious groups with whom he is allied wanted to pass out literature on school grounds and how he had stopped that, even though it was against his -- his particular philosophy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: These groups, obviously, were groups that I had some favor for, but obviously, the law has to be followed. I simply...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you stop the distribution of those...

ASHCROFT: I issued the opinion that indicated that distribution was unlawful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did you do?

ASHCROFT: Well, distribution ceased based on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: There is a growing feeling among Ashcroft supporters that he's doing extremely well, that, in fact, if he is able to prevent anybody from goading him into looking like extremist, then he is home free.

Of course, that's quite a bit of time left to go. There are going to be a continuation of hearings into the evening, Jeanne, and then tomorrow, of course, is the key day, when there is testimony from Judge Ronnie White, an African-American member of the Missouri Supreme Court. Ashcroft was successful in blocking his nomination by President Clinton to be a federal judge.

So we have a long way to go, but thus far, the consensus is that Ashcroft has done quite well, thank you -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Bob Franken, on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

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