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CNN Today

Ashcroft's Commitment to Gay Rights Questioned

Aired January 25, 2001 - 2:29 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: A new twist today in the confirmation process for John Ashcroft who is President Bush's controversial pick as the next attorney general. At issue, the former Missouri senator's stand on the issue of gay rights.

CNN's Bob Franken joins us from Washington now with details on that -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Joie, at issue is the claim that was made by Senator John Ashcroft during his confirmation hearings to be attorney general last week that he said he never has discriminated against the gays and never will. Today, a man by the name of Paul Offner completed a news conference. He is a health care expert, a Democrat and he says that does not jive at all with the experience that he had 1985 when he applied for a job with governor of Missouri, John Ashcroft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL OFFNER, HEALTH CARE EXPERT: After we had shaken hands and sat down without sort of any introduction or foreplay, he said to me, my first question, Mr. Offner, do you have the same sexual preference as most men? And I said that I thought I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Now, Ashcroft says that this is not something he remembers. It was a meeting that happened a long time. He says that this would not be something that he would say, that he doesn't discriminate against gays. And his supporters go on to point out that this did happen a very long time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That is not a question that we ask and I'm not aware of anyone who has done such a thing.

QUESTION: Do you know if it was appropriate or inappropriate to ask such a question?

FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the law and we do not ask that.

QUESTION: There's an allegation in "The Washington Post" today from a man who was interviewed by John Ashcroft who says that he asked that very question and this is in fact corroborated by a contemporaneous witness. So, there is someone in the administration, the prospective administration...

FLEISCHER: And Mr. Ashcroft has said that he does not recall saying that or asking that.

QUESTION: What about the possibility that it might have happened.

FLEISCHER: I refer you to what he said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: In addition to the charge by Paul Offner, who again was a Democrat, the gay rights groups who are part of the challenge to John Ashcroft being confirmed as attorney general held a news conference and brought James Hormel. Hormel is the first openly declared gay to be a U.S. ambassador. He was the ambassador to Luxembourg, but over the huge opposition of Senator John Ashcroft.

Now Ashcroft, in his hearing last week, claimed that he had known Hormel for many, many years starting from their time together at the University of Chicago. Hormel said they had not talked for years and that in fact, Ashcroft was somebody who was not qualified to be attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES HORMEL, AMBASSADOR TO LUXEMBOURG: I can only conclude that Mr. Ashcroft chose to vote against me solely because I am a gay man. I draw that conclusion not only from his refusal to raise any specific objection to my nomination, but also from Mr. Ashcroft's public comments at time of my nomination, and his own long record of resistance to acknowledging the rights of all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Again, Ashcroft claims he does not discriminate against gays and would not as attorney general. He also says that whatever his beliefs on variety of issues, he has promised that he will enforce laws, even when they run contrary to his belief. Now, Ashcroft is somebody who has been quite the center of controversy. In fact, the committee that was supposed to consider him was delayed because Democrats said they wanted another week. It was a week of controversy that they're trying to build up, although most people believe that Ashcroft, even with the controversy, will be confirmed -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's Bob Franken for us from Washington.

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