As attorney general, John D. Ashcroft was the public face of an administration pushing the boundaries of the Constitution to hunt down terrorists, but behind the scenes, according to former aides and White House officials, he at times resisted what he saw as radical overreaching.
Testimony last week that a hospitalized Ashcroft rebuffed aides to President Bush intent on gaining Ashcroft's approval of a surveillance program he had deemed illegal provided a rare view of the inner workings of the early Bush presidency and the depth of internal disagreement over how far to go in responding to the threat of terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
According to former officials, it was not the only time that the former Missouri senator chosen for the Bush Cabinet in part for his ties to the Christian right would challenge the White House in private. ...
These internal disputes often put Ashcroft at odds with Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the officials, who recalled heated exchanges in front of the president. In the end, the officials said, the conflicts contributed to Ashcroft's departure at the conclusion of Bush's first term, when the president replaced him with a close friend from Texas, Alberto R. Gonzales, who presumably would be more deferential to the White House.
None of this meant that Ashcroft was a closet liberal....
Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way and one of Ashcroft's strongest critics over the years, said the incident told more about his successor, Gonzales, who was one of the two Bush aides at the hospital that night.
"I did not think it was even possible to make John Ashcroft into a civil libertarian," Neas said in an interview. "But somehow Alberto Gonzales for at least one moment managed to make John Ashcroft into a defender of the Constitution."
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Ashcroft's Complex Tenure At Justice - washingtonpost.com