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John David Ashcroft (born May 9, 1942) is a United Statesmarker politician who was the 79th United States attorney general. He served during the first term of President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2005. Ashcroft was previously the governor of Missouri (1985–1993) and a US senator from Missourimarker (1995–2001).

Early life and education

Ashcroft was born in Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker, to James Robert Ashcroft and Grace P. Larsen. His father was a minister, in an Assemblies of God congregation, and served as president of Evangel University from 1958–1974, and jointly as President of Central Bible Collegemarker from 1958–1963. He later served as president of Valley Forge Christian Collegemarker. His mother was a housewife whose parents immigrated to the United States from Norwaymarker.

Ashcroft went to school in Springfield, Missourimarker. He attended Yale Universitymarker, where he was a member of the Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity and St. Elmo Society,graduating in 1964. He received a J.D. degree from the University of Chicagomarker in 1967.

After law school, Ashcroft briefly taught business law and worked as an administrator at Southwest Missouri State Universitymarker.

During the Vietnam War, he received six student military draft deferments and one occupational deferment due to his teaching work, allowing him to avoid service in the war.

Political career

In 1972, Ashcroft ran for a Congressional seat in southwest Missouri, narrowly losing the Republican primary to Gene Taylor. After the primary, Missouri Governor Christopher Bond appointed Ashcroft to be state auditor, the office Bond had left when he became governor.

In 1974, Ashcroft was narrowly defeated for election to that post by Jackson Countymarker County Executive George W. Lehr, who argued that Ashcroft, who is not an accountant, was unqualified to be the state auditor. Jack Danforth, who was then in his second term as state attorney general, hired Ashcroft as an assistant Missouri attorney general. During his tenure as an assistant AG, Ashcroft shared an office with future Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. (In 2001, Thomas administered Ashcroft's oath of office as US attorney general.)

In 1976 Danforth was elected to the United States Senate, and Ashcroft was elected to replace him as attorney general. Ashcroft was re-elected in 1980 winning 64.5 percent of the vote and winning 96 counties..

Governor

Ashcroft was elected governor in 1984 and re-elected in 1988, becoming the first (and, to date, the only) Republican elected to two consecutive terms in Missouri history.

In 1984 his opponent was Ken Rothman, a lieutenant governor from St. Louismarker. The campaign was so negative on both sides that a reporter described the contest as "two alley cats [scrapping] over truth in advertising." The campaign focused on the rural-based Ashcroft versus the urban Jewish lawyer from St. Louis. Democrats did not close ranks on primary night. Defeated candidate Mel Carnahan endorsed Rothman but the wife of the other major defeated Democrat, Norman L. Merrell of Monticello, Missourimarker, charged on primary night, "The press wanted to elect a Jewish governor and they did." In the end Ashcroft won 57 percent of the vote and carried 106 counties—then the largest Republican gubernatorial victory in Missouri history.

Ashcroft won an even bigger victory in 1988 over his opponent Betty Cooper Hearnes, wife of former governor Warren Hearnes. Ashcroft received 64 percent of the vote in the general election—the largest landslide for governor in Missouri history since the US Civil War.

During his second term, from 1991 to 1992, Ashcroft was the chairman of the National Governors Association.

As governor, Ashcroft helped enact tougher standards and sentencing for gun crimes, increased funding for local law enforcement, and tougher standards and punishment for people bringing guns into schools. While Ashcroft was in office:
  • The number of full-time law enforcement officers in Missouri increased 3,825 (63%) from 1985 to 1992.
  • Capacity at Missouri prisons increased by 72% from 9,071 in 1985 to 15,630 in 1993.
  • Missouri was above average in the length of time criminals had to serve for all sentences according to Gail Hughes, deputy director for the state Corrections Department, citing the 1991 yearbook published by the Criminal Justice Institute. The national average for time served for all crimes was 23.7 months, while in Missouri the average length of a sentence was 28.9 months.
  • According to the US Department of Justicemarker, prison time as a percentage of the time sentenced to jail was 73% in 1993 and increased to 86% in 1997.
  • The number of juveniles who were arrested for committing a crime increased by 16.3% between from 1985 and 1992.
  • Though Ashcroft initially opposed the legislation , while he was governor, Missouri enacted its first hate crimes legislation, creating penalties for ethnic intimidation and crimes committed for motives based on race, color, religion, or national origin, and penalties for institutional vandalism for damages to ethnically-related buildings and property.
  • The legislature enacted the Missouri Victim's Bill of Rights, which allows crime victims to be informed of and present at criminal proceedings, the right to restitution, the right to protection from the defendant and the right to be informed of the escape or release of a defendant.


US Senator

In 1994 Ashcroft was elected to the United States Senate from Missouri, again succeeding a retiring John Danforth. Ashcroft won 60% of the vote against Democratic Congressman Alan Wheat. As Senator:
  • He was a leading opponent of the Clinton Administration's Clipper encryption restrictions.
  • In 1999, as chair of the Senate's subcommittee on patents, he played a pivotal role in extending patents for several drugs, most significantly Schering-Plough's allergy medication Claritin.
  • He convened the only Senate hearing on racial profiling, on March 30, 2000, with Senator Russ Feingold, where he stated that racial profiling is unconstitutional and said that he supported the concept of legislation requiring that statistics be kept of police actions.


In 1998, Ashcroft briefly considered running for US president, but on January 5, 1999, he announced that he would not seek the presidency and would instead defend his Senate seat in the 2000 election.

In the Republican primary, Ashcroft defeated Marc Perkel. In the general election, Ashcroft faced a challenge from then-Governor Mel Carnahan. In the midst of a tight race, Carnahan died in an airplane crash two weeks prior to the November general election. Carnahan's name remained on the ballot because of Missouri state election laws. Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson became Governor upon Carnahan's death. Wilson announced that should Carnahan be elected, he would appoint his widow, Jean Carnahan, to serve in her husband's place; Mrs. Carnahan agreed to this arrangement. Ashcroft suspended all campaigning after the plane crash in light of the tragedy.

In spite of his being dead, Mel Carnahan was elected by a narrow margin, 51% to 49%. No one had ever posthumously won election to the Senate, though voters had on at least three occasions chosen deceased candidates for the House.

US Attorney General

In December 2000, following his Senatorial defeat, Ashcroft was chosen for the position of US attorney general by president-elect George W. Bush. Ashcroft was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 58 to 42, with most Democratic senators voting against him, alleging previous opposition to desegregation and legal abortion. Former Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton commented on Ashcroft's nomination: "John Danforth would have been my first choice. John Ashcroft would have been my last choice."

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ashcroft was a key supporter of passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. One of the provisions in that act was the controversial Section 215, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker (FBI) to make an application for an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requiring production of "any tangible thing" for an investigation. Ashcroft referred to American Library Association opposition to Section 215 as "hysteria" in two separate speeches given in September, 2003. While Attorney General, Ashcroft consistently denied that the FBI or any other law enforcement agency had used the Patriot Act to obtain library circulation records or those of retail sales.

On November 9, 2004, following George W. Bush's re-election, Ashcroft announced his resignation, which took effect on February 3, 2005 when the Senate confirmed White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales as the next attorney general. His hand-written resignation letter, dated November 2, stated: "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

Consultant and lobbyist

In May 2005, Ashcroft laid the groundwork for a strategic consulting firm that bears his name. The Ashcroft Group, LLC officially opened its doors in the fall of 2005 and as of March 2006 had twenty-one clients, turning down two for every one accepted.

In 2005 year-end filings, Ashcroft's firm reported collecting $269,000, including $220,000 from Oracle Corporation, which won Department of Justicemarker approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition less than a month after hiring Ashcroft. The year-end filing represented, in some cases, only initial payments.

According to government filings, Oracle is one of the Ashcroft Group’s five clients that seek his help in selling data or software with security applications. Another client, Israel Aircraft Industries International, is competing with Chicago's Boeing Company to sell the government of South Korea a billion-dollar airborne radar system. The Ashcroft Group is also registered to represent ChoicePoint, eBay, Exegy, Alanco Technologies, LTU Technologies and TrafficLand, Inc.

In March 2006, the New York Times reported that Ashcroft was setting himself up as something of an "anti-Abramoff", and that in an hour long interview, Ashcroft used the word integrity scores of times.. In May 2006, based on conversations with members of Congress, key aides and lobbyists, The Hill magazine listed Ashcroft as one of top 50 "hired guns" that K Street had to offer. In August 2006, the Washington Post reported that Ashcroft's firm had 30 clients, many of which made products or technology aimed at homeland security, and about a third of which the firm has not disclosed, to protect client confidentiality. The firm also had equity stakes in eight client companies. It reported receiving $1.4 million in lobbying fees in the past six months, a small fraction of its total earnings.

After the proposed merger of Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., Ashcroft offered the firm his consulting services, according to spokesman for XM. The spokesman said XM declined Ashcroft's offer to work as a lobbyist for the company. Ashcroft was subsequently hired by the National Association of Broadcasters, which is strongly opposed to the merger.

Controversies

Council of Conservative Citizens connections

Joe Conason, in Salon.com wrote that during the 2000 Senate campaign, Ashcroft met with Thomas Bugel, local president of the Council of Conservative Citizens (based in Missouri), to discuss the case of Dr. Charles T. Sell, a St. Louismarker dentist and CofCC member indicted for several crimes including plotting to murder an FBI agentmarker and a federal witness. Ashcroft subsequently wrote to the federal Justice Department on Sell's behalf. Following Ashcroft's nomination for federal attorney general and the subsequent public exposure of that meeting and letter, Ashcroft's spokeswoman Mindy Tucker asserted that he had not known that Bugel was associated with the CofCC, when Bugel had been a member of the St. Louis school board vociferously defending segregation, and Ashcroft had been attorney general and governor of Missouri. During that period, Bugel's leadership of the local branch of the CofCC, the Metro South Citizens Council, was often noted in the media.

Ashcroft had previously denounced the CofCC as racist, after a controversial interview in Southern Partisan magazine in which he expressed views that Conason interpreted as pro-Confederacy.

Civil liberties

Ashcroft's positions on privacy and some civil liberties issues made him an extremely disliked figure by rightist libertarian as well as left-wing and liberal groups. Groups opposed to the Bush administration often mentioned him as epitomizing all the reasons for their opposition. Some of his most prominent critics were organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and pro-choice groups. Opponents claimed that Ashcroft used fear of terrorism to further political goals. Examples cited include:

In July 2002, Ashcroft proposed the creation of Operation TIPS, a domestic program in which workers and government employees would inform law enforcement agencies about suspicious behavior they encounter while performing their duties. The program was criticized in the media as an encroachment upon the First and Fourth Amendments, and the United States Postal Service balked at the program, refusing outright to participate. Ashcroft defended the program as a necessary component of the ongoing War on Terrorism, but the proposal was eventually abandoned.

Ashcroft was responsible for draft legislation– the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, which proposed to greatly expand the powers of the U.S. government to fight crime and terrorism, while simultaneously eliminating or curtailing judicial review of these powers for incidents involving domestic terrorism. The bill was leaked and posted to the Internet on February 7, 2003.

On May 26, 2004, Ashcroft held a news conference at which he said that intelligence from multiple sources indicated that al Qaeda intended to attack the United States in the coming months. Critics said this was an attempt to distract attention from a drop in the approval ratings of President Bush, who was campaigning for re-election.

However, groups supporting the civil liberties protected by the Second Amendment lauded Ashcroft's Justice Department support for the Second Amendment. He said specifically, "the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms," thus embracing the position that the second amendment expresses an individual, not collective, right. At the time NRA president Sandra Froman said, "When these Bush Administration officials affirmed that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, the enemies of freedom were outraged because they fear the Second Amendment for what it really is– a shield against oppression."

In 2009 a federal court of appeals found that Ashcroft could be sued and held personally responsible for the wrongful detention of material witness Abdullah al-Kidd - an American citizen arrested in 2003 and held for 13 months in maximum security to be used as a witness in the trial of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen (who himself was acquitted of all charges of supporting terrorism) .

Spirit of Justice censorship

In January 2002, the partially nude female statue of the Spirit of Justice, which stands in the Great Hall of the Justice Department, where Ashcroft held press conferences, was covered with blue curtains, along with its male counterpart, the Majesty of Law. It was speculated this change was made because Ashcroft felt that reporters were photographing him with the female statue in the background to make fun of his church's opposition to pornography. A Justice Department spokeswoman said that Ashcroft knew nothing of the decision to spend $8,000 for the curtains; a spokesman said the decision for permanent curtains was intended to save on the $2,000 per use rental costs of temporary curtains used for formal events.

Tommy Chong sentencing

Ashcroft was an enthusiastic advocate of the War on Drugs. In a 2001 interview on Larry King Live, Ashcroft announced his intent to escalate efforts in this area. In 2003, Ashcroft and the acting DEA Administrator, John B. Brown, announced a series of indictments resulting from two nationwide investigations code-named Operation Pipe Dream and Operation Headhunter. The investigations targeted businesses selling drug paraphernalia, mostly marijuana pipes and bongs, under a little-used statute (Title 21, Section 863(a) of the U.S. Code). Counterculture icon Tommy Chong was one of those charged, for his part in financing and promoting Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, a company started by his son Paris. Of the 55 individuals charged as a result of the operations, only Chong was given a prison sentence (nine months in a federal jail, plus forfeiting $103,000 and a year of probation). The other 54 individuals were given fines and home detentions. While the DOJ denied that Chong was treated any differently from the other defendants, many felt that he was made an example of by the government. Chong's experience as a target of Ashcroft's sting operation is the subject of Josh Gilbert's feature length documentary a/k/a Tommy Chong, which premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

CIA leak conflict of interest allegation

When Karl Rove was being questioned by the FBImarker over the leak of a covert CIA agent's identity in the press, Ashcroft was allegedly briefed about the investigation. Democratic U.S. Representative John Conyers described this as a "stunning ethical breach that cries out for an immediate investigation."Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter asking for a formal investigation of the time between the start of Rove's investigation and John Ashcroft's recusal.

Writings and music

Ashcroft, a fervent lifelong member of the Assemblies of God church, helped bring the denomination more mainstream recognition in his book Lessons From a Father to His Son (1998). In the book Ashcroft writes of his anointing himself in the manner of Biblical kings, before both terms as Missouri governor, using Crisco cooking oil when no holy oil was available.

While attorney general of Missouri, Ashcroft and his wife co-wrote a textbook entitled College Law for Business.

Ashcroft composed a paean called "Let the Eagle Soar" which he sang at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminarymarker in February 2002. The rendition was satirically featured in Michael Moore's 2004 movie Fahrenheit 9/11 and has been frequently mocked by comedians such as David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and David Cross, to name a few. The song was also sung at Bush's 2005 inauguration by Guy Hovis, former cast member of The Lawrence Welk Show. Ashcroft has penned and sung a number of other songs and created compilation tapes, including In the Spirit of Life and Liberty and Gospel (Music) According to John.

With fellow senators Trent Lott, Larry Craig, and James Jeffords, he formed a barbershop quartet called The Singing Senators.

Sometime in the 1970s, Ashcroft recorded a gospel record entitled TRUTH: Volume One, Edition One with Missouri legislator Max Bacon, a Democrat.

Other books written by Ashcroft are On My Honor: The Beliefs that Shape My Life and Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice.

References

External links






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