Let's Not Fall for Re-Inventing John Ashcroft as a Good Guy

The Washington Post re-invents former Attorney General John Ashcroft, casting him as a protector of civil liberties in comparison to Alberto Gonzales.

Who are they kidding? John Ashcroft may have had a moment on his hospital sick bed in which he balked at re-authorizing the warrantless NSA surveillance program, and he may have expressed reservations about indefinite detentions at Guantanamo, but he was just as abominable as an Attorney General, and in my opinion, more so than Alberto Gonzales.

From his push on the Patriot Act, to his initiating warrantless monitoring of attorney-client conversations, to his many failed terrorism cases, his connection to Abu Ghraib, his insistence on prosecuting medical marijuana cases even in states that had legalized it, his attempt to keep tabs on federal judges, his belief that the undocumented could be held indefinitely and most spectacularly, his crusade to increase the use of the death penalty in federal cases, over the objections of his own prosectors and a federal judge, he should not be re-evaluated for his one moment of lucidity.

He was the worst Attorney General ever.

A blast from the past: The criticisms of Senators at his confirmation hearings.


Sen. Patrick Leahy:

But actions speak louder than words. And in the case of Senator Ashcroft, his 30-year record of intense opposition on so many critical issues involving civil rights, women's rights, gun control and nominations speak volumes and demonstrate clearly and convincingly that he is the wrong person to be attorney general of the United States.

Joe Biden:

...in my view, Senator Ashcroft has demonstrated repeatedly bad judgment, at a minimum, on matters relating to enforcement of civil rights and the attitude he has towards minorities, particularly African-Americans, an insensitivity in the extreme.

Sen. Herbert Kohl:

His record is out of the mainstream on central issues to the Department of Justice, issues like women's rights, civil rights, voting rights, gun control, as well as the nomination of judges. He has spent his entire public life devoted to reversing some of the very laws that he will be asked to administer. And there are indications that when he was responsible for enforcing Missouri's laws, he often chose to use the resources at his disposal to undermine them.

Sen. Richard Durbin:

As governor, in 1986, he signed the bill that defined life as beginning at fertilization, providing a legal basis to ban some of the most common and effective methods of contraception. In 1998 and 1999, Senator Ashcroft wrote letters to Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, opposing a Senate amendment to require the FEHBP, the federal health insurance plan, to cover the cost of FDA-approved contraceptives, citing concerns that funding certain contraceptives was equivalent to funding abortifacients.

Sen. Maria Cantwell:

Senator Ashcroft's record of making inflammatory statements regarding reproductive rights and desegregation, his apparent disregard for protecting the individual liberties of all Americans, his affiliation and unwillingness to disavow extremist organizations and publications, and his penchant for supporting legislation to roll back our nation's environmental laws I find disturbing.

John Ashcroft was not an acceptable Attorney General. PFAW has more on his attack on civil liberties and the ACLU discusses his push for more expanded spying powers. He was hardly an opponent of FISA wiretaps. Even the DOJ Honors Program under Ashcroft screened applicants based on ideology.

I'm only scratching the surface here. I hope people don't put blinders on in their desire to see Alberto Gonzales take a fall.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by TomK on Sun May 20, 2007 at 01:44:48 AM EST
    A lot of peoplde on the left were doing just that.

    Ashcroft was indeed horrific (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Sun May 20, 2007 at 02:15:17 AM EST
    But as bad as he was, they still managed to replace him with someone even worse. Quite the amazing feat actually.

    Let's also consider (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by space on Sun May 20, 2007 at 04:46:02 AM EST
    that Ashcroft and Comey were simply covering their rear-ends.  They knew the program was illegal and that they could possibly face jail time if the s--- hit the fan.  But, rather than shutting the program down, they appear to have "compromised" by taking the DOJ out of the loop.

    Let's not declare that James Comey is a good guy (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by CMike on Sun May 20, 2007 at 04:56:10 AM EST
    Comey signed onto what, even after modification, is probably an illegal surveillance program . And Comey failed to alert the public or the senate of his knowledge of Gonzales' unfitness to serve as Attorney General prior to that thug's confirmation. Just think about it, Comey has allowed the reins of the Justice Department to be turned over to Alberto Gonzales without uttering a word of objection.  

    Ashcroft (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by nellieh on Sun May 20, 2007 at 08:25:03 AM EST
    I have a problem with your characterization of Ashcroft as the "worst ever." It depends on what the egregious infractions are. Mitchell was a criminal and Meese close to it.. Ashcroft was more than anything a religious zealot willing to cross the line on civil liberties and packing the courts. Gonzales leads the way with incompetence, stupidity and being the puppy to the big dog. Neither one is worth a crap and I'm sure I'm nitpiking.

    We've had several horrid AG's (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Carolyn in Baltimore on Sun May 20, 2007 at 09:13:51 AM EST
    Ashcroft was pretty bad but you knew what he stood for. I'd even go for second-worst maybe after some reflection and study.
    But Gonzales is far worse because of the politization and vote fraud leanings of the DoJ and the recklessness by which the DoJ has been destroyed..

    I concur somewhat (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Molly Bloom on Sun May 20, 2007 at 09:36:54 AM EST
    Gonzo, Mitchell, Ashcroft and Meese are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse when it comes to AG's.


    He was the worst Attorney General ever. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Edger on Sun May 20, 2007 at 09:19:44 AM EST
    Awww jeeze, look...

    So he slipped and acted like a reasonable human being once. Give the guy a break. He was in the hospital. They woke him up. He was probably a bit groggy and not in full command of his faculties, or it would never have happened.

    Give the guy a break. All he ever wanted in life was to save you from Tommy Chong, and from anybody else who wasn't a radical christianist fanatic.

    He was the worst Attorney General ever.


    And (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by squeaky on Sun May 20, 2007 at 09:43:10 AM EST
    Let's not forget that he appointed Barbara Comstock as his Director of Public Affairs, and Monica Goodling came with the package as her deputy. Ashcroft was front and center in politicizing the DOJ.

    2002 ... 2002 ... What happened in 2002? Well, for starters, that's when Monica Goodling came over to DOJ with Barbara Comstock:

    When Comstock became Ashcroft's spokeswoman in 2002, she brought Goodling along as her deputy. Goodling stayed for three years. In no time, Goodling became "indispensable" to the office, says Corallo, who became Ashcroft's spokesman in 2003. "I have never known anybody that works harder or does better work than her."


    And this:

    Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft continued to oversee the Valerie Plame-CIA leak probe for more than two months in late 2003 after he learned in extensive briefings that FBI agents suspected White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of trying to mislead the FBI to conceal their roles in the leak, according to government records and interviews. Despite these briefings, which took place between October and December 2003, and despite the fact that senior White House aides might become central to the leak case, Ashcroft did not recuse himself from the matter until December 30, when he allowed the appointment of a special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to take over the investigation.

    Murray Waas

    Good Ashcroft, bad Ashcroft (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by profmarcus on Sun May 20, 2007 at 04:57:15 PM EST
    as my dear departed grandma used to say, "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride..." i wish for a lot of things, so, while we're on the subject of wishes, i wish ashcroft had been a hell of a lot more assertive in putting the "bad" ashcroft on ice, had resisted the intrusive provisions of the patriot act, had stood foursquare against torture, had squelched extraordinary rendition, and spoken up about a whole lot of other things...

    my biggest wish, however, is that he would have stepped forward after the disgraceful and illegal hospital incident and shared with those who needed to know, or, even better yet, the american people, just how far beyond the law our president and his hired thugs are willing to go...

    in spite of the fact that, according to comey, he took a principled stand, he still falls into the ranks of those who could have spoken up but didn't, and into the even worse category of those who still haven't spoken up... like every other government official, john ashcroft took an oath to defend the united states constitution... it still needs defending, perhaps never more so than now, and all we hear from john ashcroft's general direction are crickets chirping...

    And, yes, I DO take it personally

    Halo effect on Ashcroft (none / 0) (#10)
    by naschkatze on Sun May 20, 2007 at 10:15:20 AM EST
    Yes, Jeralyn.  I won't guess at Mr. Comey's and Ashcroft's motivation in refusing to sign on to some secret surveillance program.  At best, they sincerely thought it was unconstitutional.  But that doesn't excuse the Patriot Act nor the abuse of Jose Padilla.  As Glen Greenwald described them, they are still Republican idealogues.  That goes for Patrick Fitzgerald too even though he touts himself as so independent.  He too is a great defender of the Patriot Act, and the blogs have totally overlooked how he has prosecuted so-called terrorist cases in Chicago, for example the Mohammed Salah case which Fitzgerald lost in spite of questionable tactics.

    Mitchell was Worse (none / 0) (#11)
    by Randinho on Sun May 20, 2007 at 12:27:56 PM EST
    I'm certainly not going to deify John Ashcroft by any means, but until he does time a la John Mitchell, Mitchell remains the worst in my book.

    On my website I've exposed Monica Goodling and her boyfriend/Assistant US Attorney for Virginia Richard Parker (with 4 pictures).... (she most likely got him the job)

    Its already been reported that the US Attorney for Western Virginia, John Brownlee, was the FIRST name on the list of 5 possible candidates for firing ......

    ... Perhaps it would be pertinent to ask how Goodling's boyfriend got the job as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia... and perhaps it might be a good time to figure out why the US Attorney from Virginia (a battleground state) was put on the termination list....

    COMPLETE RETRACTION (none / 0) (#15)
    by MisterApologist on Thu May 24, 2007 at 01:10:32 PM EST



    Ha! (none / 0) (#13)
    by Adept Havelock on Sun May 20, 2007 at 03:07:16 PM EST
    Ashcroft the worst AG ever?   What would you expect from a guy who couldn't win an election against a corpse??