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CNN Today

Transition of Power: Confirmation Hearings for Ashcroft, Norton Most Contentious

Aired January 18, 2001 - 1:26 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots of judging going on in the Senate Judiciary Committee today as members hear from old foes and friends of Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken has been listening to it all.

And I guess, Bob, it depends on whom you listen to -- your opinion of John Ashcroft.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact of the matter is is probably very few opinions are being changed. He, of course, the controversial nomination by President-elect George W. Bush to be attorney general. His opponents say that he is a dogmatic conservative and would not enforce the laws that he would be, in fact, supposed to enforce as the attorney general.

And the adversaries brought on their most important witness today, Judge Ronnie White, of the Missouri state Supreme Court -- first African-American on that court, nominee by President Clinton to become a U.S. federal judge defeated in that quest by -- mainly because of the efforts of then-Senator John Ashcroft, who charged that Ronnie White's record as a judge was too "pro-criminal," too pro- defendant.

White came to the -- make his first public comments as he testified before the committee and said he deeply resented that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE RONNIE WHITE, MISSOURI SUPREME COURT: I was very surprised to hear that he had gone to the Senate floor and called me pro- criminal with a tremendous bent toward criminal activity, that he told his colleagues that I was against prosecutors and the culture in terms of maintaining order. I deeply resent those baseless misrepresentations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Now, the civil rights groups have claimed that Ashcroft was playing racial politics by opposing the judicial nomination of Judge Ronnie White. Ashcroft has said he, in fact, has a strong civil rights record and was only objecting to the fact that crime victims were being given short shrift by the decisions by Judge White.

And what the supporters of Ashcroft were able to do is to take away the impact in many people's mind of Judge White's testimony by putting on a woman who in fact has suffered severe crime herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLEEN CAMPBELL, VICTIMS' RIGHTS' ADVOCATE: John Ashcroft will fight for legal rights and true remedies for crime victims. We urge you to support John Ashcroft's confirmation. No one knows who's going be a victim. And with your -- if you will permit me, my words today are dedicated to the memory of Brian Campbell, my 17-year-old grandson who died nine days ago. And it's really tough to be here, and if this wasn't so darn important, I wouldn't be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Colleen Campbell says she also lost a son to murder and that as a result she believes that John Ashcroft is needed to support victims' rights. So we had emotional, strong testimony on both sides.

Now this is only one contentious hearing that's going on. There is also a hearing that is supposed to start shortly that is going to involve Gale Norton. As a matter of fact, it'll be starting in about a half hour. She is the nominee to be the interior secretary, and if that nomination has caused outrage among environmental groups -- who say that her long history of supporting state enforcement of anti- pollution laws and her long history of saying that companies' needs, corporate needs should be taken more into account makes her a danger to the environment.

They have really thrown down the gauntlet, although it looks like they're going to lose -- still, she is going to face very tough questioning in her hearing.

And a much different, a much less contentious hearing will feature Ann Veneman, who is the California Department -- the head of the California Department of Agriculture. She is trying to become the U.S. Department of Agriculture head, and she's going to be facing a hearing too -- not expected to have much opposition.

But the ones to watch, of course, are the Ashcroft hearing, Natalie, and now the Gale Norton hearing.

ALLEN: And you can watch those here on CNN as we provide live coverage.

Thanks so much, Bob Franken, on Capitol Hill.

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