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Hearing of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommitee of the House Judiciary Committee - From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules, Part V


Location: Washington, DC

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, witnesses, for appearing today. And I would just like to comment that Attorney General Ashcroft, you've served with distinction, both as an attorney and as a governor, senator, and finally as attorney general. And as attorney general -- and, by the way, I really respect you as a formidable witness. I think you're probably the most formidable witness that I have experienced during my short tenure as a member of this committee.

MR. ASHCROFT: This is going to be a pretty rough question, I'm afraid. (Laughter.) This is not a buildup for a goodbye. (Laughter.)

REP. : Go after him.

REP. JOHNSON: Now, as attorney general, you were the president's senior law enforcement officer, were you not?

MR. ASHCROFT: I think it would be fair to say that.

REP. JOHNSON: And you -- in that capacity, then, as senior law enforcement officer, you supervised the FBI.

MR. ASHCROFT: The FBI is under the Justice Department.

REP. JOHNSON: And so --

MR. ASHCROFT: Now, the director of the FBI is independently appointed --

REP. JOHNSON: I understand.

MR. ASHCROFT: -- for a 10-year term.

REP. JOHNSON: But you supervised --

MR. ASHCROFT: Yes, I did. And I was in the FBI every single day after 9/11, and most of them before then.

REP. JOHNSON: And you also oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide. Correct?

MR. ASHCROFT: The U.S. attorneys answer to the attorney general --


MR. ASHCROFT: -- since about 1870.

REP. JOHNSON: So you would agree that you oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide.

MR. ASHCROFT: Yes, sir.

REP. JOHNSON: And so, therefore, your position has always been that the Department of Justice would have to have a voice in the military tribunal process to try terrorism suspects. Is that correct? That would have been your opinion, yes or no?

MR. ASHCROFT: I had an interest in that; not that I had the right to insist that I have a voice.

REP. JOHNSON: But you felt strongly that the office of the attorney general, being the senior law enforcement officer, you, and you overseeing the activities of the FBI and the terrorism prosecutions, that your office should have a voice in the military tribunal process. Is that a fair --

MR. ASHCROFT: I don't -- I think there are some other things that are important. One, the military tribunals do not try criminal violations.

REP. JOHNSON: You're going a little bit afar of the question I'm asking.

MR. ASHCROFT: No, I'm not. Military tribunals try war crimes, and the attorney general has no authority to try war crimes. He deals with the laws enacted by Congress.

REP. JOHNSON: Well, let me take it in this direction, then. Press reports describe a heated meeting in November of 2001 between yourself and Vice President Cheney on the subject of military tribunals for terrorism suspects. And in particular, it was reported that you were upset because, without your knowledge, Mr. Yoo, who was your subordinate, had advocated keeping the Department of Justice out of the process of trying terrorists. Is that true? Is it true?

MR. ASHCROFT: Is it true that there was a meeting?

REP. JOHNSON: That you were upset --

MR. ASHCROFT: I don't recollect.

REP. JOHNSON: -- because, without your knowledge --

MR. ASHCROFT: I don't recollect it.

REP. JOHNSON: Well, is it true that without your knowledge, Mr. Yoo was advocating keeping the Department of Justice out of the process of trying --

MR. ASHCROFT: I don't know. I don't know.

REP. JOHNSON: Now, Mr. Yoo was dealing with the White House and/or the office of the vice president directly and without your knowledge about his opinions with respect to whether or not the Department of Justice should be included in that process. Is that true?

MR. ASHCROFT: I'm aware of those reports. And there were individuals --

REP. JOHNSON: Well, are the reports true?

MR. ASHCROFT: -- (inaudible). There were individuals in the department who came to me and expressed concerns that we would make sure that we always maintain the independence and detachment that would serve the president best with legal advice.

REP. JOHNSON: Thank you. My time has expired. I will say that history will judge you differently than it will judge your successor, and I appreciate it.

MR. ASHCROFT: Thank you.

REP. JOHNSON: Thank you very much.

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