2001 February 2

John Ashcroft, Hostile to Civil Liberties, Becomes Attorney General


After losing his Missouri Senate seat in 2000 (to a dead man; his opponent died during the campaign), John Ashcroft was appointed Attorney General by the newly elected President George W. Bush. Ashcroft was consistently hostile to civil liberties. He was confirmed by the Senate on this day by a vote of 58–42. Ashcroft was a key administration supporter of passage of the USA PATRIOT Act on October 26, 2001, which contained a number of provisions that undermined civil liberties principles. He also lashed out at critics of the administration’s response to terrorism saying, on December 6, 2001, that questioning the government’s actions gave aid and comfort to the nation’s enemies. Ashcroft was also an evangelical Christian, and he held daily religious meetings at the Justice Department.

To his great credit, on March 10, 2004, Ashcroft courageously upheld the rule of law in a direct confrontation with aides to President George W. Bush over the war on terrorism. Ashcroft was gravely ill and in the hospital for a gall bladder problem when White House aides went to his hospital room to pressure him to sign the re-authorization for the adminstration’s secret surveillance program. Heavily medicated, Ashcroft rose up off his pillow, refused to take any action, and pointed to James Comey, the acting attorney general. The incident was one of the few where a top Bush administration official declined to approve a questionable administration war on terrorism policyl

Read: John Ashcroft, Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice (2006)

Read: Cynthia Brown, Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Liberties (2003)

Watch Attorney General Ashcroft discuss terrorism immediately after 9/11: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KyEb39B6bY

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