Ashcroft: “Polarizing…Honest…Jekyll And Hyde”


Attorney General John Ashcroft “is easily the most polarizing member of the Bush cabinet, and his policies are sure to emerge as an important area of contention between President Bush and whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be,” says U.S. News & World Report. In a cover story profile, the magazine says that Ashcroft’s name alone is a guaranteed applause line for Democratic presidential His legal initiatives are increasingly controversial: Several federal judges and an appeals court in New York have challenged key policies, and the Supreme Court is set to review the issues later this year. Among the more than 9,000 career lawyers at his department, he is a divisive figure. “He’s become so radioactive,” says a Justice Department veteran who likes Ashcroft, “that he couldn’t announce a free school lunch initiative without people questioning it.”

In an interview, Ashcroft says, “I may be the person more responsible for trying to shape the national consciousness in saying that prosecution is not enough for the Justice Department anymore. It has to be actively involved in prevention. And in order to move an institution and its mentality, sometimes you have to draw very clear lines.”

Ashcroft is one of the least understood men in Washington. Derided by some as a religious zealot, he never has never invoked religion in policy discussions. Challenged as insensitive to minorities, Ashcroft worships regularly at a mostly black church. An ardent opponent of abortion, he is praised by abortion-rights groups for prosecuting violence against abortion clinics. A longtime gun-control foe, he has increased prosecutions of some gun crimes nearly 70 percent. James Comey, Ashcroft’s deputy, says, “He’s shockingly smart…The guy is ferociously honest, but there are people who would not believe that. To some in the public, he is Darth Vader, but it’s unfair because he’s really not that way.” A former administration official who knows him well warns that, “he’s still got the strident partisan senatorial mind-set firmly in place. There’s almost a Jekyll and Hyde quality.”


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