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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. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would comment that there are tens of millions of people who are going to hate us even if we live up to our highest standards, but I agree with the witness that the audience for that hatred would be contracted a bit if we lived up to our highest standards.

General Ashcroft, in his book, "The Terror Presidency," former OLC Chief Jack Goldsmith said this about OLC Deputy John Yoo. "In practice, Yoo worked for Gonzalez who at that time was White House Counsel. He took his instructions mainly from Gonzalez and at times gave Gonzalez opinions and verbal advice without running the matters by his superiors in the Department of Justice" -- actually, the quote says "without fully running the matters by the Attorney General."

"This arrangement was an understandable affront to you, who worried about the advice Yoo was providing in the Attorney General's name. So when the White House wanted to elevate you to lead the office of OLC, you put your foot down and vetoed Yoo for the job.

That --

MR. ASHCROFT: Sounds like who's on first.

REP. SHERMAN: I know, let me rephrase that. Ashcroft put his foot down and vetoed Mr. Yoo for the job. Is that accurate?

MR. ASHCROFT: Let me say what I think I -- I can say here. I think it's very important -- and this is consistent with the traditions and responsibility of OLC to have independent, detached fully-vetted advice provided by the OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel, to the president of the United States. And during this time in the Justice Department, there were key individuals in the department that served me and served the department, served America that expressed to me reservations that related to the proximity that was -- that characterized the relationship that he had with various individuals in the administration.

And my view was simply this, that I wanted to make sure that that wasn't some singular view and that that wasn't some isolated conclusion and I developed in my own mind a sense of confidence about the nature of the reservations and that they merited our serious consideration. And so I had -- as a result of these items being brought to my awareness, I raised these issues.

REP. SHERMAN: So you were opposed to Mr. Yoo getting the job as chief of OLC?

MR. ASHCROFT: I felt that the United States of America and the president would both be best served, especially as it related to the characteristics I previously mentioned, if there would be an OLC chief that would emphasize those characteristics more profoundly.

REP. SHERMAN: Does the OLC speak only for itself, or does it speak for the Department of Justice?

MR. ASHCROFT: It's a part of the Department of Justice and when it speaks I think the -- the Department of Justice -- you know, we got an OLC chief here could probably answer this. I always thought --

REP. SHERMAN: I know, but you described to me how much fun you have at these House hearings, and I didn't want to deprive you of a single -- (laughter) --

MR. ASHCROFT: I do, that's right, it's a thrill a minute here. (Laughter). The -- I've always taken it as the gospel. When OLC speaks, I have given it the highest level of respect. As a matter of fact, I don't know of a better set of attorneys that existed in any administration.

REP. SHERMAN: Okay. The press reports describe a heated meeting in November 2001 between you and Vice President Cheney on the subject of military tribunals for terrorism suspects. In particular it was reported that you were upset because without your knowledge, Mr. Yoo -- again who's on first -- Mr. Yoo had advocating keeping DOJ out of the process of trying terrorists. Is that accurate?

MR. ASHCROFT: I won't comment on meetings that otherwise -- and are classified or meetings that involve communications with -- by the attorney with the administration.

REP. SHERMAN: Thank you.

My time has expired.

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