Ashcroft Flying High, by CBS News

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Ashcroft Flying High, by CBS News

Postby admin » Mon Sep 07, 2015 1:08 am

Ashcroft Flying High
by CBS News
July 26, 2001

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Attorney General Ashcroft, with President Bush (AP): "There was a threat assessment and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines."-- FBI spokesman

CBS) Fishing rod in hand, Attorney General John Ashcroft left on a weekend trip to Missouri Thursday afternoon aboard a chartered government jet, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart.

In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.

"There was a threat assessment and there are guidelines. He is acting under the guidelines," an FBI spokesman said. Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.

A senior official at the CIA said he was unaware of specific threats against any Cabinet member, and Ashcroft himself, in a speech in California, seemed unsure of the nature of the threat.

"I don't do threat assessments myself and I rely on those whose responsibility it is in the law enforcement community, particularly the FBI. And I try to stay within the guidelines that they've suggested I should stay within for those purposes," Ashcroft said.

Asked if he knew anything about the threat or who might have made it, the attorney general replied, "Frankly, I don't. That's the answer."

Earlier this week, the Justice Department leased a NASA-owned G-3 Gulfstream for a 6-day trip to Western states. Such aircraft cost the government more than $1,600 an hour to fly. When asked whether Ashcroft was paying for any portion of the trips devoted to personal business, a Justice Department spokeswoman declined to respond.

All other Bush Cabinet appointees, with the exception of Interior and Energy with remote sites to oversee, fly commercial airliners. Janet Reno, Ashcroft's predecessor as attorney general, also routinely flew commercial. The secretaries of State and Defense traditionally travel with extra security on military planes.

The Justice Department insists that it wasn't Ashcroft who wanted to fly leased aircraft. That idea, they said, came strictly from Ashcroft's FBI security detail. The FBI had no further comment.

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Re: ASHCROFT FLYING HIGH, by CBS News

Postby admin » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:40 am

The Unaccountable Attorney General
by Albert R. Hunt
The Wall Street Journal
Jun 6, 2002

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One reason, the FBI explains, that it didn't respond last summer to an agent's warnings about suspicious activities at flight schools by Middle Eastern men was a lack of resources. But there were enough FBI agents to eavesdrop on New Orleans hookers and their clients.

That certainly reflected Attorney General John Ashcroft's priorities. This was an attorney general selected as a cultural warrior.

Remarkably, as the Sept. 11 debate, and the delicious dueling leaks, focuses on FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Chief George Tenet, there has been little criticism of Mr. Ashcroft. Yet on that tragic day, Mr. Mueller had been in office seven days, his boss, the attorney general, had served more than seven months. George Tenet spent that summer warning about the terrorism thereat; but the attorney general considered counterterrorism a low priority.

Hindsight always is easy. There is plenty of culpability for failing to anticipate Sept. 11, and even if mistakes weren't made, the tragedy might have occurred anyway. But as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, John Ashcroft's pre-Sept. 11 agenda was fighting gun control, abortion, state laws permitting assisted suicide or medical marijuana, and going after hookers and their clients, not terrorism.

An attorney general sets a tone; there are many more crimes than crime-catchers in America so priorities are important. Under Robert F. Kennedy, ambitious U.S. attorneys general or FBI agents zeroed in on organized crime. Under Janet Reno, prosecutions for Medicare and Medicaid fraud, a cause of hers, soared.

There is no reason to think Mr. Ashcroft ordered federal agents in New Orleans to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours watching and wiretapping brothels. But his underlings clearly knew that proving that sin and sex were pervasive wouldn't displease the boss. The endless drudgery of monitoring flight schools was not the path to advancement in the Ashcroft criminal justice system.

What makes this more galling was the willingness of the Bush camp to blame the Clinton administration for the failure of American counter-terrorism: documents show that Ms. Reno, whatever her failings, was far more committed to fighting terrorism than Mr. Ashcroft. The attorney general's efforts to rewrite history, painting himself as an anti-terrorist warrior from the get-go is simply duplicitous.

The Clinton administration was late coming to the terrorism threat. But by the second term it mattered. The only two top officials retained by George W. Bush a year and a half ago were CIA Director Tent and Richard Clarke, the terrorism expert at the National Security Council.

The Justice Department sought huge budget increases and Attorney General Reno stressed the fight against terrorism. There were excesses, such as the establishment of an alien terrorist removal court, to secretly evict suspected terrorists, but it appears not to have been used.

In a May 1998 strategic directive, Ms. Reno listed her only "tier one" priority as combating "terrorist and criminal activities that directly threaten national or economic security." In her memorandum to budget heads for the 2002 budget, her final one, counter terrorism and cyber crime were accorded the top priority.

By contrast, Mr. Ashcroft cut back on the counter-terrorism emphasis. In his directive to budget heads for the 2003 budget, he too laid out priorities, over a dozen; none pertained to anti-terrorism.

Although last summer the FBI complained that it lacked sufficient resources in the war against terrorism, the attorney general rejected the bureau's request for $57.8 million for more counter-terrorism agents, intelligence researchers and language translators. In a letter to Budget Chief Daniels Sept. 10, the attorney general outlined his initial requests for more funds. There are no add-ons for counter-terrorism, but there is a reduction in grants to state and local governments for anti-terrorism.

Yet, asked last weekend on television about these reports, Mr. Ashcroft, who sometimes confuses disagreement with disloyalty, claimed the charge "significantly misrepresents" the facts. The $57.8 million rejection only was in the give-and-take of preliminary deliberations; the actual budget involved a "massive increase in the anti-terrorism budget."

That is a flat-out misrepresentation. The give-and-take process inside the department had already transpired and the boss turned down requests for more counter-terrorism resources. When an agency head goes to the budget director, that's the high-water mark; requests then often are pared back, not increased.

Sure, there was a "massive increase" in the counter-terrorism budget -- after Sept. 11. But the Ashcroft rhetoric has been more forceful than the results. Since Sept. 11 the attorney general has thrown some 2,000 supposedly suspicious Middle Eastern men in prison, some for months, but has not indicted even a single one on a terrorist charge. Withholding information and secrecy are a way of life with the attorney general.

So is arrogance. Last week when he decided to let FBI agents roam around mosques and churches, without any "reasonable indication" of a crime -- overturning a more than quarter-century-old guideline promulgated by former president Jerry Ford and his attorney general Edward Levi -- he gave congressional leaders only two hours notice. That infuriated lawmakers like Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, whose anti-government conservative instincts were offended by the substance of the change.

Tough, Ashcroft defenders reply; the attorney general is popular with the president -- one GOP activities calls him the "conservative heartthrob" of the Bush administration -- and with the public. To hell with the carping critics in Congress and the press.

This tactic may work as it did months ago when he charged critics with "giving ammunition" to America's enemies and "aiding terrorists." But it's easy to see why John Ashcroft resorts to such tactics; a full examination of his performance, before and after Sept. 11, would give lots of ammunition to his critics.
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