John Ashcroft

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John Ashcroft
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Attorney General John Ashcroft

Order 79th Attorney General
Term of Office January 20, 2001 -
February 3,2005
Predecessor Janet Reno
Successor Alberto Gonzales
Date of Birth May 9, 1942
Place of Birth Chicago, Illinois
Political Party Republican

John David Ashcroft (born May 9, 1942) was the 79th Attorney General of the United States. He served in the first administration of President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2005.


Early career

Ashcroft was born in Chicago. He was educated in Springfield, Missouri, and at Yale University, where he graduated in 1964. He received a J.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1967, and briefly taught business law at Southwest Missouri State University.

He began his career in Missouri government in 1973. He was Governor of Missouri from 1985 to 1993. In 1994 he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri, where he became a leading opponent of the Clinton Administration's Clipper encryption restrictions. He ran for reelection in 2000 against then-Governor Mel Carnahan, who died in an airplane crash about two weeks before the election. Due to Missouri state election laws, Carnahan's name could not be removed from the ballot, and his wife, Jean Carnahan, announced that she would serve in her husband's place should he be elected. Carnahan won the election with her late husband's name still on the ballot. Following his defeat, Ashcroft was nominated as U.S. Attorney General by president-elect George W. Bush in December 2000. Despite some contention from Democrats, Ashcroft was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 58-42.

Ashcroft worships in the Assembly of God church. Whenever he was sworn in to any political office, he had himself anointed with cooking oil.

Attorney General

Ashcroft is noted by his detractors for allegedly ordering that the partially nude statues of Liberty and Justice, which stand in a meeting room where he held press conferences, be covered with curtains. Ashcroft denied these allegations. It has also been said that this action was taken because he felt that reporters were photographing him alongside the statues to make fun of his church's opposition to pornography.

Ashcroft is considered a leading member of the Christian right wing of the Republican Party and was one of the highest-ranked representatives of that group in the Bush Administration. Ashcroft's religious beliefs have led opponents, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), to question his ability to effectively enforce certain laws, especially those pertaining to abortion. Ashcroft maintained that he will enforce laws whether he agrees with them or not.

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 widely 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's positions on privacy, civil liberties and anti-terrorism measures made him an extremely controversial figure, and groups opposed to the Bush administration often used him as a shorthand reference for all the reasons they opposed him. Some of his most prominent critics were organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and pro-choice groups. Many liberal commentators claimed that Ashcroft used the threat of terrorism to further political goals; one prominent example was a news conference held in May of 2004, which critics claimed was an attempt to distract attention from a drop in the approval ratings of President Bush, who at the time was campaigning for re-election. [1]

Ashcroft's opponents allege that he used the threat of terrorism as a justification for unnecessarily restricting civil liberties. Some of those opponents have pejoratively labeled his polices as "Ashcroftism." Publications such as refer to him as "Grand Inquisitor" Ashcroft[1] (

In March 2004, Ashcroft entered the George Washington Medical Center with gallstone pancreatitis; surgeons removed his gallbladder (cholecystectomy) within a week.

On November 9, 2004 Ashcroft announced his resignation from his post as Attorney General, which took effect on February 3, 2005 with the Senate confirmation of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales as the next Attorney General. Some believe his health was a factor in his decision. His hand-written resignation letter, dated November 2, stated: "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

War on Drugs

Ashcroft is an enthusiastic advocate of the War on Drugs. In 2003, he 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. Most of the 55 individuals charged as a result of the operations were sentenced to fines and home detentions; Chong, however, was sentenced to 9 months in a federal prison, forfeiture of $103,000, and a year of probation. 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.

Ashcroft's tough-on-marijuana stance dates back to his tenure as a Senator, when he successfully pushed for stricter federal mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses. He continued this stance as the Governor of Missouri, favoring a drug control policy that focused law enforcement efforts on casual drug users.

In 1992, while Ashcroft was Governor of Missouri, his nephews Alex and Adam Ashcroft and Alex's housemate Kevin Sheeley were arrested and charged with production and possession of marijuana. A raid uncovered 60 marijuana plants, with lighting, irrigation, and security systems, in a basement crawlspace. While the production of more than 50 plants usually results in a federal charge and mandatory jail time, 25-year-old Alex Ashcroft was prosecuted on a state charge and received 3 years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Kevin Sheeley was not convicted, and his record was sealed; Adam Ashcroft, who did not live in the house, was never prosecuted. Though Alex Ashcroft tested positive for marijuana in his first probation-mandated drug test, no further actions were taken against him. The parents of Alex and Adam have denied that the young men received a lenient treatment as a result of their connection to the governor.

The former senator famously once boasted of his conservatism, saying that there are two things you find in the middle of the road: "a moderate and a dead skunk", adding that he did not wish to be either.


Ashcroft composed a paean called "Let the Eagle Soar" which he sang at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in February 2002. The rendition was satirically featured in Michael Moore's 2004 movie Fahrenheit 9/11. The song was also sung at Bush's 2005 inauguration, though not by Ashcroft but by Guy Hovis.


On March 18, 2005, Regent University, a primarily graduate university founded by Pat Robertson with its main campus in Virginia Beach, Virginia, announced that Ashcroft would join the school's faculty on July 1. He will serve jointly in Regent's law and government schools. [2] (


Mintz, John and Allen, Mike. "To Suspicious Candidates, the Threat of Attack Is No Longer Above the Fray." The Washington Post, June 27, 2004.

External links


Preceded by:
Christopher S. Bond
Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by:
Mel Carnahan
Preceded by:
John C. Danforth
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Missouri
Succeeded by:
Jean Carnahan
Preceded by:
Janet Reno
Attorney General of the United States
Succeeded by:
Alberto Gonzales

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