Associated Press
December 22, 2000

Bush Names Ashcroft Attorney General

By Scott Lindlaw

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) -- President-elect Bush nominated defeated Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general on Friday, choosing a conservative Republican who lost his re-election bid to a dead man.

''An effective attorney general must be a person of prudent character and executive ability,'' Bush said. He also said there must be a commitment to ''fair and firm and impartial administration of justice.''

''I'm confident I found the correct person in John Ashcroft,'' he said.

Ashcroft, 58, was a two-term governor of Missouri before he went to the Senate in 1994. Gov. Mel Carnahan challenged him for re-election in one of the feature Senate contests of 2000, but was killed in an airplane crash in October. His name remained on the ballot, and he won. His widow, Jean, was appointed to the Senate seat.

Ashcroft said political defeat ''brings more than emotion and pain, it brings perspective.'' With the appointment, he said, it also brought a call to renewed and noble service.

The senator, a favorite of Republican conservatives who had maneuvered against more moderate choices for the Justice Department, said he would ''strive to be a guardian of liberty and equal justice.'' Ashcroft, an ardent foe of abortion, said the rule of law ''knows no class, sees no color and bows to no creed,'' and that will be his guideline.

''You have my word that I will administer the Department of Justice with integrity, I will advise your administration with integrity and I will enforce the laws ... with integrity,'' he promised Bush.

At a news conference after the announcement, Bush said of Ashcroft, ''This is a person who believes in civil rights for all citizens.''

Dealing with White House criticism of his suggestions that there are warning signs of an economic slowdown, Bush said it is foolish for anyone to suggest that he is trying to talk down economic prospects.

Bush said one way to encourage consumption and enhance consumer confidence ''would be to let the people have some of their own money back.''

''There are clear warning signs, warning signs which will require action in the halls of Congress,'' Bush said in a push for his $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut proposal.

He was asked about his apparent difficulty in finding a secretary of defense. ''I would characterize my search as deliberate,'' he said.

Former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., long considered a sure-bet to become the Pentagon chief, remains a leading candidate, but Bush has told advisers he needs more time to consider his options. Other candidates include Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage, who both served under Vice President-elect Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.

Bush said he knows there is a lot of speculation but when he makes up his mind on Cabinet posts, he won't be acting on the basis of politics but on the basis of what is right for the country.

Asked about a moratorium on the federal death penalty, Bush said he supported capital punishment ''when it is administered fairly.''

Bush, who oversaw a record 40 executions in Texas last year as governor and 152 over the course of six years, said he sees no reason for a moratorium on the death penalty at the federal level.

''If there is compelling evidence that the system is not swift and sure and just, I will listen'' on any death penalty case, Bush said.

''His views are the correct views,'' Ashcroft said.

The president-elect also has selected New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency, according to several GOP officials. Bush was expected to make more announcements later Friday.

He also was meeting with state agriculture industry leaders.

Another GOP governor, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, hopes to follow Whitman into the Bush administration. Senior Republicans in Washington and Wisconsin said Thompson accepted Bush's offer in a Thursday morning telephone call to be Health and Human Services secretary. They said the announcement would be made next week.

However, two senior Bush advisers said the president-elect had not quite closed the deal with Thompson.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

In his presidential campaign, Bush faced criticism from Democrats and some conservationists for his stewardship of the environment in Texas, where he had been governor since 1995 until his resignation Thursday. Environmentalists argued he didn't fight pollution aggressively enough; During his second term, Houston became the nation's smoggiest city.

Indeed, the EPA itself intends to review clean-air plans the state was forced to submit earlier this month because of persistent smog.

Bush contended the state's air improved on his watch, and said he was behind major air-quality improvement initiatives.

Whitman, 54 and a Republican, championed open-space preservation in New Jersey and refused to abandon an unpopular auto emissions test designed to reduce air pollution.

Critics said that to attract businesses, she compromised water pollution protections and cut spending for state offices that prosecute environmental abuses by industry.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said Whitman has a ''mixed record on the environment, but on balance we believe the Sierra Club could work with her.''

As head of an agency created by President Nixon 30 years ago, Whitman would have to decide whether to pursue Clinton administration environmental initiatives.

For instance, the EPA currently is seeking substantial new pollution controls on coal-fired power plants in the Midwest that pollute the Northeast. She has supported the EPA position.

Bush is moving at a fast clip in filling out his administration, working against a clock that ticked through the five-week electoral deadlock in Florida.

In another development, GOP sources said Virginia Gov. James Gilmore is Bush's pick to head the Republican National Committee.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Back to The Crime Line