May 20, 2007

John Ashcroft Was Not a Bad Man

Print More

I have been a fan of John Ashcroft from the very moment he was selected as Attorney General for Bush’s first term. My admiration probably started because of his Missouri connection (I hail from St. Louis for those of you who do not know). Although I was disappointed when Ashcroft lost a very close Senate race back in 2000, I became excited when I heard that President Bush had selected him as the Attorney General of the United States. I have been an Ashcroft fan ever since.
Unfortunately, I know that others beg to differ. By the end of his tenure as Attorney General, Ashcroft was despised by many Democrats. I remember back in 2003, at my first weekend debate tournament in high school, when they projected a picture of John Ashcroft in the auditorium shortly before the awards ceremony began. Boos slowly emerged from the audience, getting louder and louder.
When Democrats remember Paul Wolfowitz ’65, they think of, as Sun Senior Editor David Wittenberg once said, Paul “I gave my girlfriend a raise and invented the Iraq War” Wolfowitz ’65. Likewise, perhaps some Democrats think of John Aschroft as John “I gave my girlfriend a raise and invented domestic spying” Ashcroft. Except Ashcroft to my knowledge never gave a girlfriend a raise. And, maybe he opposed the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program.
Yes, as it hard as it may be for some to believe, Ashcroft drew the line there and sought to protect our civil liberties. So who was pushing for the NSA program? As it turns out, one of the men was our current Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. When he was first nominated, I thought, along with many Democrats in Congress, that Gonzales was supposed to be the less divisive and the less polarizing Attorney General. In fact, as the current episode over the NSA spying program may prove, along with Gonzales’s scandal with the fired attorneys, it may be the other way around.
For those of who have not heard the story that took place back in March 2004, Ashcroft at the time was hospitalized, and the acting Attorney General was Deputy Attorney General James Comey. After he refused to authorize the eavesdropping program, Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card then visited an extremely ill Ashcroft and tried to have him authorize the program, even though Ashcroft’s wife had prohibited visitors. Ashcroft also refused.
In the fallout that ensued, Ashcroft, Comey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller all threatened to resign. Comey, testifying to Congress recently, described the saga as “the most difficult of my professional career.” Only Bush’s intervention prevented the wave of resignations that was about to come crashing down.
After hearing about this, I believe that Gonzales should resign. I kept an open mind about him and what role he played in the firing of several attorneys from the Justice Department. The evidence started to mount against him, though, and after hearing about Gonzales trying to advantage of a sick man, I now have a pretty good idea of that man’s character.
As for Ashcroft, I like him all the more for his bravery. Standing for your beliefs can be tough at times, much less when you are extremely ill, lying in a hospital bed. I know Ashcroft would not over-zealously protect civil liberties at a significant cost to national security, so I trust his judgment that the domestic spying program was not worthwhile. Furthermore, one sometimes has to make some controversial calls to promote national security, and Ashcroft understood this as Attorney General, but at the same time, when you enter this territory, you have to draw a line and know where to stop. Ashcroft had a moral compass, and he would not let others coerce him into straying in the wrong direction.
So to all the Ashcroft haters who really did not give him a chance as Attorney General, you should reconsider him and his legacy. Maybe he is not the villain you thought we was…