John Ashcroft and the neo-Confederates
by Joe Conason
If conservatives are sincere in their sudden agitation over Trent Lott's neo-Confederate sympathies -- and there is every reason to believe that many of them are -- then perhaps the time has come to take another look at John Ashcroft. He hasn't said anything lately as offensive as Lott's remarks at the Thurmond birthday celebration. But during his confirmation hearings, the attorney general's odd opinions and unsavory connections received less attention than they merited.
The questioning of Ashcroft in the spring of 2001 by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee was barely competent, and his former colleagues took his demurrals at face value. Had the Senate attempted a serious investigation of Ashcroft's background, they would have discovered many resemblances to the Mississippi senator who now causes them such discomfort.
Like Lott, Ashcroft has lent his prestige to neo-Confederate publications and causes, notably the strange interview he gave to Southern Partisan magazine. And like Lott, he has cultivated connections with the Council of Conservative Citizens, which maintains its headquarters in his home state of Missouri.
While Ashcroft was running for reelection to the Senate against the late Mel Carnahan in 2000, he met secretly with a CCC leader named Thomas Bugel to discuss the fate of a CCC member indicted for plotting to murder an FBI agent, among other offenses. When that meeting was exposed following his nomination for attorney general, Ashcroft claimed through a spokeswoman that he didn't know about Bugel's association with the CCC.
Yet in addition to serving as the local president of the CCC, Bugel was for several years the leading segregationist on the St. Louis school board. Ashcroft had every reason to know exactly who Bugel is, because as attorney general and governor of Missouri, he too had played a divisive role in racial disputes. The strange story of Ashcroft's connections with the CCC is told here and here.
Ashcroft has never convincingly explained why he told the editors of Southern Partisan -- a periodical known for repeatedly praising the assassination of Abraham Lincoln -- that he admires their "traditionalist" defense of "Southern patriots" like Jefferson Davis (who is also Lott's favorite statesman). In that same interview he endorsed the legitimacy of the secessionist Missouri government, which fled to Texas during the Civil War.
Neither has Ashcroft ever provided a full account of his reasons for meeting with CCC president Bugel, to discuss the cases of Dr. Charles T. Sell, the indicted St. Louis dentist and CCC member. His office sent letters to federal authorities about Dr. Sell's case at the behest of the CCC (as did his fellow Missouri senator Kit Bond). It would be interesting to know whether crime-busting Ashcroft ever sent a letter to the Justice Department that he now heads on behalf of any other federal defendant.
Ashcroft's original explanations and excuses were no more credible than those initially offered by Lott. Republicans determined to reform their party ought to demand the truth, and a complete repudiation of segregation, neo-Confederate ideology and the CCC, from the man whose job it is to enforce the nation's civil rights laws. --12.17.02
Our Mr. Brooks
On Thursday in prepared remarks, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that those who criticize or question the administration's policies regarding military tribunals, detention of 600 some odd anonymous persons, and other wartime policies "only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
Lots of editorials have been written and not a small note taken of the apparent lack of outrage by the public in general over these remarks. Don't worry we're not going to add to the verbage already out there in this regard. Rather, we were taken by comments on PBS Friday during the Politcal Wrap on the "New Hour." Mark Shields regarding Ashcroft's statements. "He defiantly and deliberately chose to confuse dissent with disloyalty. There is no doubt about it."
Later, David Brooks said, "Let me talk a bit about the Ashcroft psychology because that's something that conservatives understand, it's hard for a lot of other people to understand. You come to Washington as a conservative, you feel a little alienated. You come as a Christian conservative, you feel more so because somehow you feel your values are under assault every day."
Brooks continues, "And what happens is you only deal with your intimates, you only deal with conservatives and you feel like the whole town is out to get you. And so you get this phenomenon that you see again and again in Republican administrations, have one or two high administration officials insulating themselves and developing this psychology that anything I do that liberals like is somehow a failure of my character. I think Ashcroft is falling into this very unfortunate pattern."
We're interested in Brooks's defense of Ashcroft's deliberate confusion of dissent with disloyalty, particularly the claim that Christian conservatives are marginalized in Washington DC. First, we think Brooks is being a bit disingenuous about a full-scale assault on conservative Christian values from a national media that provides "fair and balanced" access to, among others, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Gigot, Bill Crystal, William Safire, Tucker Carlson, Bob Novak, O'Reilly, Brit Hume, Berke, George Will, Kato Berne, and, of course, Brooks, himself.
More importantly, though, is the concern that if, in fact,Mr. Ashcroft is actually insulating himself from all but his most conservative and Christian intimates and thus looking at his fellow citizens through spectacles of alienation, then he is a profound danger to all of us. Unlike McCarthy in the early '50s who, after all, was only a Senator, Ashcroft is the top law enforcement officer in the United States and in that capacity he gets to make a determination of who may be considered to be giving the 'enemies' of the United States 'Aid and Comfort' (US Constitution Article III Section 3) - namely as he says, any one who criticizes the current Administration's (his) policies. With this sort of extreme view there is a plausible basis for charging Mark Shields with 'Treason' for his comments on the "News Hour" which surely must have given 'comfort' to Al Qaeda, since Shield is questioning Ashcroft's and, therefore, the Administration's authority. That is, if the Al Qaeda weren't busy dodging bunker busters and eating dust.
In such times as these the body politic often cedes its civil liberties in the interest of protecting itself with the understanding that these liberties will be returned upon the cessation of hostilities. But this is an open-ended war. There are always new terrorists of global reach arising, and Mr. Ashcroft has the daily global threat assessments to prove it. So there's really no way to know when the hostilities have ceased and, hence, no milestone by which to know when our liberties are to be returned. This is why it is our solemn obligation to think and write critically about what the Administration does in prosecuting this war. --Christine, 12/10/01
In calling his critics traitors, he undermined support for his cause.
By Register Editorial Board
That may be the most memorable rebuke delivered against a United States senator in a nationally televised hearing. It was the beginning of the end of public support for Joe McCarthy, the red-baiting senator from Wisconsin whose name is forever associated with a dark period in American civil liberties.
It's too bad no one had that sense of outrage to condemn U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft - a former U.S. senator - at Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on questions of how the Bush administration is conducting investigations into terrorist activities.
To those who have expressed concerns about secretly jailing suspects, eavesdropping on lawyer-client conversations and secret military tribunals, Ashcroft had the audacity to say they are aiding the enemy.
That was contemptible.
Ashcroft is dead wrong, besides. Nothing would give more aid and comfort to the enemies of America's freedoms - such as the freedom to criticize the government - than for the government to succeed in silencing its critics. That has not worked here since the demise of the Alien and Sedition Acts 200 years ago.
What's especially sad about Ashcroft's assertion is that he undermined support he might have had for the administration's expansion of executive powers. There is a case to be made for denying aliens the same constitutional protections that American citizens enjoy; the chief executive has extraordinary powers in time of war. The enemy is elusive, perhaps, but it has bombed our leading financial center and military headquarters and may be capable of striking again.
Whatever acceptance the attorney general may have deserved for his cause, however, he forfeited it with Thursday's attack on those who dare to criticize the administration.
In essence, he said, they are traitors.
To that, it must be said: Sir, have you no shame? At long last, have you no shame?
"In his opening statement, Ashcroft unleashed the harshest attack of the day. He blasted his critics, claiming that "their bold declarations of so-called fact have quickly dissolved, upon inspection, into vague conjecture. Charges of 'kangaroo courts' and 'shredding the Constitution' give new meaning to the term 'the fog of war.'" Then he went on to assert that the critics were threats to the nation's security: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists--for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil." --Corn, 12/6/01
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November 25. "With supreme ambivalence, we are embarking on the Ashcroft era in American justice. The Economist writes that the attorney general's assault on evil has "a Cromwellian feel," noting dryly: "England's Lord Protector also disapproved of drinking, dancing and smoking." The evangelical barbershop singer, whose nomination was opposed by every liberal special interest, has now become the big man in town. It's weird what tricks fate plays. The great hope of the Christian right who was toppled by a dead man and his widow has re-emerged as a colossus bestriding the country. A true sectarian in religion and politics, who said at Bob Jones University that in America "we have no king but Jesus," will leave a huge mark on the way Americans live their lives. Mr. Ashcroft's contentious nomination fight was not over whether he had a fine legal mind. Senators fought over whether or not he was too riddled by prejudice and narrowness to serve, as they examined his opposition to a black judicial nominee, a gay ambassadorial nominee, abortion rights and his odd defense of slaveowners and Confederate generals. Now, stunned by terrorists, abroad and in our midst, the country is seized by contradictory impulses. On the one hand, we have to trust Mr. Ashcroft. Four thousand people are dead. We are at war with anthrax. There is no question that the attorney general inherited a Justice Department and an F.B.I. that were grossly delinquent on domestic security. But even as we cut the guy some slack, we have to be really skeptical about his assertions of power. It was telling that the first resistance to his edict to interview 5,000 Middle Eastern men came from police chiefs objecting to racial profiling. We're trying to trust someone whose instincts once did not inspire universal trust to rethink the way civil liberties will be treated for a generation." --Maureen Dowd.
George W. Bush wants you to believe that former Senator John Ashcroft's integrity is beyond reproach, but the facts prove that John Ashcroft has lied to the Senate, to the voters of Missouri and to the American people.
1. John Ashcroft lied to the U.S. Senate about Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White
In 1998, Ashcroft blocked Judge White's nomination as a Federal judge by claiming on the Senate floor that Judge White was "pro-criminal" and that he had "a tremendous bent toward criminal activity." This isn't just gentlemanly disagreement. Ashcroft engaged in demagogery and malicious slander to defeat Judge White's nomination. See A Character Assassin Should Not be Attorney General.
2. John Ashcroft lied to the American people when he said he didn't know the teachings and practices of Bob Jones University
Now that the racist policies of Bob Jones University are widely known, John Ashcroft says he didn't know their teachings and practices when they awarded him an honorary degree. There are three solid reasons this is impossible to believe.
Ashcroft was Missouri Attorney General when the Supreme Court issued its opinion denying tax exempt status to Bob Jones University for its racist policies. Ashcroft's job was to read and consider landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings. While Ashcroft was Governor he considered three people as potential nominees to a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court. One of them was Carl Esbeck, whose writing in defense of Bob Jones University was featured in a major St. Louis Post Dispatch story (8/6/92, p. 1b) at the same time Ashcroft was considering his Supreme Court choices. Again, it was his job to study the background and the opinions of the lawyers he was considering naming to the highest court in Missouri.
Ashcroft sat for a lengthy interview in 1997 with Bob Jones IV for a Web publication called What in the World, an interview that has mysteriously disappeared from the Bob Jones University Web site.
When Ashcroft says he was unaware Bob Jones University prohibited inter-racial dating, he's lying. Read Mark Shield's piece on why it is impossible to believe Ashcroft's lies about Bob Jones University.
3. John Ashcroft has lied repeatedly about his continuous misuse of public resources to support his own campaigns for public office
When he was Missouri's Attorney General he kept his deputy campaign manager on the public payroll until six months after the campaign started. When caught, he claimed this assistant's activity raising money for Ashcroft's campaigns while his salary was being paid by the taxpayers was "an isolated occurrence" (AP 3/4/84). Yet the assistant, Tom Deuschle, admits he has raised money and sought political support for Ashcroft when he was being paid by Missouri taxpayers. See the Washington Post article 14 January 2001, which is based on the Ashcroft deposition of 3/1/83, the Thomas Deuschle deposition of 4/13/83 and the Randy Sissel deposition of 4/13/83.
4. John Ashcroft lied repeatedly to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his actions in the past and his plans for the future
He lied four times about his role in Missouri's school desegregation struggle
He lied about his role in opposing David Satcher for Surgeon General
He lied about his role in opposing James Hormel for Ambassador to Luxembourg
These are not little white lies. They are evidence of how far over the line into dishonesty John Ashcroft is prepared to go when he is certain that his "higher truth" justifies going outside of the law. Is this someone we want to be the nation's top cop? --Dems.com
In an interview with Judy Woodruff this afternoon, Sen. Teddy Kennedy said that a filibuster against the Senate nomination of ex-Senator John Ashcroft would be "the way to go" if the needed votes were forthcoming. While Kennedy would not say that he would be the one to initiate the filibuster, it seemed clear to us that he would take on that task if he were sure there were 41 votes in support of such an action by early next week. If a filibuster were to begin at that point it would take the Republicans 60 votes to stop the it. Citizens can be heard on this by contacting their Senators here, here (below), and here. --Politex, 1/26/01
Today, long BEFORE the first day of hearings, Trent Lott announced that all 50 Republicans will vote for Ashcroft. This is despite clear and growing evidence that Ashcroft's extremist views are well outside mainstream conservative thought. It is despite serious and troubling questions about his integrity. As always, the Republicans are marching in lockstep to advance their extreme right-wing agenda. When the stakes are high, there are NO independent-minded Republicans. There is no question that John Ashcroft is an extremist. He has a long and appalling record. We have included a summary of that record below. Contrary to Republican propaganda, George W. Bush is NOT entitled to appoint as the nation's chief law enforcement official someone who is resolutely opposed to the laws that support our most cherished liberties and democratic principles. This is especially true because Bush did not win a mandate for right-wing policies - in fact, he did not win at all, but was chosen by a 5-4 Republican majority of the Supreme Court. George W. Bush promised to be a "uniter, not a divider" and to "govern from the center." Nominating an extremist like John Ashcroft is as divisive as any nomination could be. And there is no doubt that the failure to reject an extremist like Ashcroft will send an unmistakable message to the Republicans that the Democrats are unwilling and unable to oppose Bush's far-right agenda.
There is only one thing standing between us and an extremist Attorney General: the Democrats in the Senate. Yesterday, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) became the first Senator to announce that she would oppose Ashcroft. Boxer's excellent letter is here: http://boxer.senate.gov/newsroom/20010110_ashletter.html. We are delighted that Boxer is standing up. But ONE Democratic Senator is NOT sufficient. Even ALL 50 Democratic Senators cannot stop Ashcroft, because Vice President Cheney will break the tie in favor of Ashcroft. And at least one Democrat - Robert Torricelli (NJ) - appears to have made a deal to support Ashcroft. We therefore need a FILIBUSTER from 40 Democratic Senators who care more for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than they do for Senatorial privilege and popularity. The Republicans would need 60 votes to break a filibuster, so they would need 10 Democrats. We do not think they can find 10 Democrats to support a nominee as extreme as Ashcroft. If 40 Democrats stick together, Ashcroft cannot be confirmed.
So let's send a loud and clear message to every Democratic Senator: WE DEMAND A FILIBUSTER! Last week, we inundated Senate offices with phone calls urging Democrats to oppose Florida's Electors. They didn't do what we wanted them to do, but they most definitely heard us. This time, we need you not only to call your Senators, but also to convince every Democrat you know to join you in calling Democratic Senators to DEMAND A FILIBUSTER. Once again, we are including all Senate phone numbers below. Please call the district office AND the Washington office. Tell them we poured our time and our money into Democratic Senate victories so we would have the power to resist right wing extremists like Ashcroft. Tell them they are our only line of defense, and they must fight for the majority of Americans who voted against Bush's right-wing agenda. Senate Democrats must draw a line: either George W. Bush will govern from the middle of the political spectrum as he promised, or he will not be permitted to govern at all. Act now!!!-- Bob Fertik & David Lytel
The Case Against John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General:
A Record of Extremism
Prepared by: People for the American Way
President-elect George W. Bush has named former Senator John Ashcroft as his choice for U.S. Attorney General. The Attorney General is the principal enforcer of our nation's civil rights laws and is entrusted with guaranteeing justice for all Americans. In addition, the Attorney General plays a major role in deciding what kinds of judges will preside over our nation's federal courts. The National Journal wrote that, "Ashcroft's record in 1997 and 1998 put him in a tie as the most-conservative Senator." According to that analysis, Senator Ashcroft was even farther to the right than Jesse Helms. That's why Ashcroft's nomination is being pushed by Religious Right organizations and their far-right political allies. John Ashcroft's record of extremism and lack of commitment to equal justice under the law make him unfit to lead the Justice Department. Ashcroft distorted the record of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White and misled his Senate colleagues in order to sabotage White's nomination to a federal district court.
He has led attempts to amend the Constitution and pass legislation that would virtually eliminate women's reproductive rights by banning abortions, even for rape and incest victims. The abortion ban he proposed was so extreme that it could have been invoked to outlaw widely accepted and commonly used birth control methods including the pill and IUDs. He embraces the Religious Right's narrow view of the First Amendment, and has sought to undermine the separation of church and state, which protects all Americans' religious liberty. He has opposed legislation designed to end workplace discrimination (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) and to protect vulnerable groups of Americans against hate crimes (the Hate Crimes Prevention Act). He voted to weaken a federal law that helps protect minority communities against "redlining" by banks and other financial institutions. He is opposed to affirmative action and based on that opposition he helped block a Senate vote on the nomination of Bill Lann Lee as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. He voted to roll back clean water protections and introduced legislation to undercut efforts to limit emissions of man-made greenhouse gases. He has praised the far right magazine Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate publication that promotes the view, among others, that slavery was beneficial to the slaves. He cast the sole vote against a 1999 continuing resolution to keep the federal government open. In just six years in the Senate he introduced or sponsored no fewer than seven different attempted amendments to the Constitution. In 1996 he proposed a radical amendment that would have made it much easier to amend the Constitution, opening the way for disastrous political and ideological mischief. He opposed the federal ban on assault weapons, and urged Missouri voters to support an initiative to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. He opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, and as Missouri's Attorney General he sued the National Organization for Women over a boycott of the state, which had not ratified the ERA. He voted to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts As Missouri Attorney General and Governor, he was staunchly opposed to school desegregation ordered by federal courts in St. Louis and Kansas City, and even opposed a voluntary city-suburb desegregation plan in St. Louis.
Ashcroft's nomination is opposed by People For the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, NAACP, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and other public interest organizations.
"George W Bush's nominee to be the next US attorney general has been linked to an extremist pro-gun lobbying group which believes that the answer to America's school shootings is to allow pupils to be armed in the classroom." The revelation that former senator John Ashcroft has recent links with the militant Gun Owners of America (GOA) group is the latest twist in an increasingly impassioned partisan battle over a nomination which has become a major trial of political strength for Mr Bush. Even many conservatives consider the GOA to be extremist. After a shooting at an Oregon school in May 1998 in which two pupils were killed by a fellow student, it issued a press release headed: "Lesson of school shootings: More guns needed at schools". Its director, Larry Pratt, was forced to resign as co-chairman of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential bid after news leaked of his links with the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and rightwing militia groups. Mr Pratt is also head of an anti-immigrant organisation called English First. It emerged yesterday that Mr Ashcroft wrote a friendly handwritten letter in March 1998 to Mr Pratt, thanking him for drawing his attention to provisions in a juvenile justice bill which imposed increased penalties for gun law offences. As a result of the GOA's lobbying, Mr Ashcroft, who had originally been a sponsor of the bill, withdrew his support for the legislation. The letter was sent on Senate notepaper and was addressed "Dear Larry" and signed "Thanks! John".
"This is not the only known link between Mr Ashcroft and Mr Pratt. The two men know each another from a secretive but highly influential rightwing religious group called the Council for National Policy, of which Mr Pratt is a member and whose meetings Mr Ashcroft has attended. The CNP's membership is almost a who's who of US conservatism and includes the Republican congressional leaders Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Tom DeLay. The revelation of the link with Mr Pratt came as two other allegations about Mr Ashcroft's extreme rightwing links also surfaced. In the first, it was confirmed that Mr Ashcroft took time off from his bitter senatorial contest last September to meet Thomas Bugel, the president of the St Louis chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, to discuss the case of a CCC member, Charles Sell, jailed by federal authorities on charges of conspiring to murder an FBI agent. The CCC is the successor organisation of the Citizens Council, which led the fight against integration in the South in the 1950s and 60s. The CCC, whose supporters also include Senator Lott and Senator Jesse Helms, opposes interracial marriage and non-white immigration, and believes black people are genetically less intelligent than whites. It is currently mobilising to try to defeat a statewide referendum in Mississippi in April to remove the Confederate flag from the state flag." --Martin Kettle and Jane Martinson, 1/13/00
John D. Ashcroft, President-elect Bush's pick to be attorney general, told graduates at Bob Jones University in 1999 that America was founded on religious principles and that "we have no king but Jesus," according to a transcript of his remarks released yesterday. Ashcroft, who has come under intense criticism for accepting an honorary degree from the controversial school in Greenville, S.C., also told approximately 900 graduating seniors and their families, "I thank God for this institution and for you." "Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal," said Ashcroft, then a Missouri senator. "There's a difference between a culture that has no king but Caesar, no standard but the civil authority, and a culture that has no king but Jesus, no standard but the eternal authority." Ashcroft's appearance at Bob Jones on May 8, 1999, had been the focus of an intensifying tug-of-war between Senate Democrats and Bush transition officials this week when it became clear that the school had tapes of the ceremony but refused to release copies to the public. A transcript of the taped remarks was included in the first stack of background documents on Ashcroft to arrive at the Judiciary Committee yesterday afternoon. Ashcroft opponents and some Democratic senators said the remarks reinforce concerns that Ashcroft will let his conservative religious views unduly influence his decisions as attorney general. They also questioned Ashcroft's judgment in accepting a doctor of laws degree and $750 in traveling expenses from Bob Jones, which until recently forbade interracial dating among students and whose leader has called the Catholic Church a "cult." --Eggen and Vise, 1/13/01
"An American Association of University Women analysis finds 41 senators plan to vote to confirm Attorney General-Designate John Ashcroft, and 32 will vote to reject. Four lean toward Ashcroft, 16 lean against, and seven are undecided." (Orvetti) You may contact any or all 100 senators and give them your opinion of Ashcroft's nomination by e-mail or phone at U.S. Senate, by bulk e-mail to all members of congress, or by free fax at the partisan freeper site. --Politex, 1/11/01
"An American Association of University Women analysis finds 41 senators plan to vote to confirm Attorney General-Designate John Ashcroft, and 32 will vote to reject. Four lean toward Ashcroft, 16 lean against, and seven are undecided." (Orvetti) You may contact any or all 100 senators and give them your opinion of Ashcroft's nomination by e-mail or phone at U.S. Senate, by batch e-mail to all members of Congress, or by free fax at the partisan freeper site. --Politex, 1/11/01
"During his long political career, tough John Ashcroft has rarely, if ever, spoken out on behalf of the rights of criminal defendants. He carried out seven executions as the governor of Missouri. In the Senate, he supported fewer protections for death-row inmates as well as harsher penalties for juvenile offenders. He opposes expanded treatment for drug offenders. Last year, he fiercely (and successfully) opposed the nomination of Ronnie White to a federal judgeship, because the black jurist is supposedly “pro-criminal.” But there’s at least one criminal defendant for whom Mr. Ashcroft—now awaiting confirmation as U.S. Attorney General—has demonstrated real concern. That would be Dr. Charles T. Sell, a St. Louis dentist indicted by the Justice Department on charges that include conspiracy to murder an F.B.I. agent and a federal witness.The strange case of Dr. Sell—imprisoned for much of the past three years in the psychiatric ward of the federal prison in Springfield, Mo.—began in May 1997, when he was arrested in his office by federal agents on charges of defrauding Medicaid. A year later, the government charged the dentist and his wife, Mary Sell, with plotting to kill the F.B.I. agent who arrested him, as well as a former employee who was the chief witness against him. The evidence includes taped conversations described as “incriminating” by a Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who listened to them, and statements by a couple who say the Sells tried to hire them to carry out the murders.
"While serving as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Ashcroft made several inquiries to the Justice Department on behalf of the dentist, according to Gordon Baum, head of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a militant white racialist group headquartered in Missouri, and the Post-Dispatch. As recently as last September, while he campaigned for re-election to the Senate, Mr. Ashcroft met personally with a prominent C.C.C. member named Thomas Bugel to discuss how he could assist Dr. Sell....His prosecution and imprisonment have become a cause célèbre among leaders of the C.C.C. Mr. Baum, who resides near St. Louis, confirmed that Dr. Sell has been a staunch C.C.C. member....Reports about the case appear on the C.C.C. Web site, where Mr. Ashcroft’s nomination as Attorney General was recently lauded because of hopes that he will free Dr. Sell. Although Mr. Bugel, the C.C.C. member with whom Mr. Ashcroft met to discuss Dr. Sell’s case, is no longer active in local politics, he became well known in St. Louis a decade ago while serving on the St. Louis School Board. He led a white faction that was widely criticized for inflaming tensions in the racially divided city. He also once headed the Metro South Citizens’ Council, an offshoot of the White Citizens’ Councils set up across the South to oppose racial integration. Mr. Bugel said he wonders why neither of Missouri’s two Democrats in Congress, Richard Gephardt and William Clay, responded to his pleas for help. But it might be just as fair to wonder how Mr. Ashcroft—who will oversee the F.B.I. if he is confirmed as Attorney General—decides which defendants are worthy of his concern and which are not." --Joe Conason, 1/10/01
"WASHINGTON, D.C.—The uphill battle to stop John Ashcroft from becoming attorney general got a boost late last week, with the unexpected arrival of two dozen boxes stuffed with "opposition research" against the former senator from Missouri. The damning files were gathered by Democrat Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash just weeks before the conclusion of a vicious, racially polarized campaign in which he successfully unseated Ashcroft. The contents of these boxes, now sitting in the offices of People for the American Way, have become the hottest property on Capitol Hill. They paint a portrait of a patriarchal, extremist Ashcroft entirely at odds with the bland, friendly image the ever-smiling conservative tries so hard to project. In a report posted at the nonprofit's Web site (www.pfaw.org), the group reveals that Ashcroft has voted against abortion rights and even common forms of birth control, and systematically turned aside the judicial nominations of woman after woman. When his appointment was first announced, Ashcroft seemed a sure bet. But as the details of his history with blacks and women began to raise eyebrows and questions, Ashcroft suddenly found his nomination at risk. "Significant opposition is building," says Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice. "More and more people are learning about his record." The Ashcroft nomination is so much at risk, in fact, that Bush's choice for labor secretary, Linda Chavez—suddenly caught in a rerun of Nannygate—may end up serving as the scapegoat who'll try to draw enough fatal fire away from Ashcroft to gain him Senate approval. By the numbers, Republicans have the pull in the evenly divided Judiciary Committee to send the Ashcroft nomination to the Senate floor. Then things could get much trickier. Ashcroft could steal some votes from the ranks of Southern Democrats, but he could also lose the crucial support from what's left of the moderate Northeastern GOP—namely lawmakers like Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who've been willing to break with the right-wing party line on abortion rights and the environment. With the chamber split 50-50, a few defections on either side could make the difference.
"And there's another wild card in the deck. Civil rights groups arrayed against Ashcroft are privately plotting for a filibuster that could defeat the nomination. If indeed they can find a senator brave enough to make a kamikaze run against the new Bush administration, Democrats can undo the razor-thin Republican edge. It takes 60 votes to shut off the nonstop verbal stream of a filibuster; though Ashcroft supporters might be able to muster 51 or 52 votes to shove him through, the prospect of collecting 10 more backers would be daunting. Yet who would have the guts to pull the trigger? As a former senator, Ashcroft enjoys the perks of the old fogies' club, who aren't known for trying to take each other out. What's more, the Democrats have a lackluster record for standing up and fighting the conservative Republican juggernaut. Anyone launching a filibuster would stand to become a pariah in the club—perhaps even becoming an untouchable among the Democrats—but would also bask in the limelight. Finding the person willing to play that role won't be easy. Could it be Hillary Clinton, who claims to have been victimized by the right-wing conspiracy? Hardly. One of the handful of women senators who back abortion rights, someone like Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, California's Dianne Feinstein? There's Paul Wellstone, whose bark has always been worse than his bite. Teddy Kennedy? New York's Charles Schumer has raised questions about Ashcroft. But would the circumspect Schumer bet his burgeoning Senate career on a filibuster? Doubtful.
"Whoever takes Ashcroft head-on will have plenty of ammo. Ashcroft has left a lengthy trail of statements on his positions, which are far to the right of stock Republican tenets like limited government. He holds an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which only recently lifted a prohibition against interracial dating. Ashcroft thinks Social Security is a bad idea, wants to ban flag burning, and in the interest of "constitutional freedom," would make it easier to pack a concealed weapon. He once said providing clean needles to drug addicts was like "issuing bulletproof vests to bank robbers."
*Ashcroft on homosexuality: "I believe the Bible calls it a sin, and that's what defines sin for me."
*On taxes: "In Washington, taxes and spending are the only things more addictive than nicotine."
*On federal funding for the arts: "I believe it is wrong as a matter of public policy to subsidize free expression." Congress put "an end to funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. No more subsidized profanity, no more subsidized obscenity, no more silk-stocking subsidies for the symphony."
*On abortion: "We must start by voting to defend innocent human life. . . . God's precious gift of life must be protected in law and nurtured in love."
"The son of a Pentecostal preacher, John Ashcroft is a man who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't dance. He doesn't mince words about his far-right views: "Two things you find in the middle of the road" are "a moderate and a dead skunk." A hardliner like Ashcroft might make a good legislator, but his dogma fits him poorly for a role like attorney general. Yet it's exactly those staunchly held views that have the religious right salivating over the notion of Ashcroft as lead lawyer for the nation. The responsibilities—and might—of the attorney general are enormous. The AG interprets laws for the entire government, represents the United States in the courts, and makes sure the executive branch complies with Supreme Court rulings. As head of the Justice Department, the AG oversees the FBI, sets policy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, administers the federal death penalty, and commands the Drug Enforcement Agency's war on drugs. The AG exerts strong influence over judicial appointments and directs the corps of U.S. attorneys nationwide. As the string of recent decisions made by current attorney general Janet Reno shows, the long arm of the AG has reached down into every corner of the republic: from the siege of Waco and the shootout at Ruby Ridge, to the forced removal of Elián González and the sporadic enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in the Florida election.
"Having Ashcroft serve as AG is especially important to the conservative movement because he provides a rare bridge between the free-market economic wing of the GOP and the Christers in the social wing. The free-market Republicans want as little government as possible, while the Christian fundamentalists want to employ the power of the federal government to drive social change. Ashcroft has two signature items on his agenda. The first is guns. He is a firm supporter of the NRA, which reportedly contributed nearly $400,000 to his last senatorial campaign. Two years ago, Ashcroft voted against an amendment to require safety locks on firearms. He opposed a ban on assault weapons. And in 1999 he urged Missouri voters to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons. He also supports the NRA's efforts to have the FBI erase records it keeps on gun transactions immediately instead of holding them for future reference. The second flagship issue for Ashcroft is his opposition to abortion. Pro-choice groups are concerned that Ashcroft might not only lead a drive to overturn Roe v. Wade, but also would refuse to enforce federal laws protecting abortion clinics from violence and harassment. But Ashcroft would have the federal government reach further into people's daily sex lives. He once sponsored the Human Life Act of 1998, which attempted to express the medical nuances of fertilization as a matter of hard law—an effort supporters of abortion rights say would have resulted in a ban on the pill and IUDs. But Ashcroft's antiwoman record goes beyond reproductive rights. In an online report, People for the American Way details his serial objection to women judges nominated for the federal bench—a years-long performance that might provide a preview of how, as AG, he would handle recommendations for the court. Ashcroft tried to delay and defeat the 1996 nomination of Margaret Morrow, claiming she was a liberal activist who should be kept from the bench because of her efforts to promote pro bono legal work. Buoyed by bipartisan support, Morrow was eventually appointed, but only after Ashcroft helped stall it for two years. He was one of 11 senators to vote against the 1998 appointment of Margaret McKeown, which had been stalled for two years, and one of 30 to oppose Ann Aiken's bid for a federal judgeship in Oregon. With 28 other senators, he voted against Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which had been held more than a year. A wall of resistance from Ashcroft kept at bay for two-and-a-half years the confirmation of Susan Oki Mollway, the first Asian American woman to serve on the federal bench.
"When Ashcroft comes up for his own vote before his former Senate colleagues, he will most likely face his strongest opposition from Democrats over his bouncing of black judge Ronnie White, a member of the Missouri Supreme Court nominated by Clinton for a federal assignment. At the time Ashcroft was up for reelection, running on a "tough on crime" platform. During the early stages of the debate on White, Ashcroft evidenced little more than routine interest, asking questions about partial-birth abortion and gay rights. But as his own reelection campaign against Mel Carnahan heated up, Ashcroft zeroed in on White. The senator seized on White's lone and reluctant dissent from the execution of a cop killer, who shot three officers and a sheriff's wife. White wrote that even though the jury rejected the killer's claim of insanity, there must have been something wrong with the man. Ashcroft argued that the law enforcement community had raised a "red flag" about White. But as it turns out, Ashcroft's fulminating was based on what looks like a malevolent distortion of the judge's views. As an inquiry by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed, one of the largest police organizations in the state supported White, while the others had been actively lobbied by Ashcroft or his allies. Ashcroft's "marathon public crucifixion" of White caused African American Gentry Trotter, an Ashcroft fundraiser, to resign from the senator's campaign, and so galvanized black voters in Missouri that they voted for Carnahan, even in death. The whole grisly scene may soon be played out again, with Democrats threatening to call White for testimony, just as Anita Hill was called to testify against the nomination of Clarence Thomas. Only this time, liberals may have a real chance. Conservatives may just have gone too far." --James Ridgeway, VV, 1/10/01
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