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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

John Ashcroft

  • Ashcroft Group: Chairman 
  • Academi (formerly Blackwater): Independent Director
  • U.S. Attorney General (2001-2005)
  • Federalist Society: Member

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John Ashcroft is a longstanding Republican Party figurehead who served as the U.S. attorney general during the first term of President George W. Bush. He heads the Ashcroft Group consulting firm, sits on the board of directors for the military contractor Academi (formerly Blackwater), has been a member of the Federalist Society, and is a distinguished professor at the Regent University School of Law, a conservative Christian institution affiliated with evangelist Pat Robertson.

Attorney General

A former governor and senator from the state of Missouri, Ashcroft is closely associated with social conservatism, having opposed abortion, gay rights, gun control, and hate crimes legislation. He famously issued an order as attorney general to cover the breasts of the “Spirit of Justice” statue at the Department of Justice building.[1]

After the 9/11 attacks, Ashcroft became closely associated with many of the Bush administration’s more controversial counterterrorism policies. According to a Washington Post summary, Ashcroft “championed a broad expansion of government power to investigate possible terrorist cells through the USA Patriot Act, authorized the detention of hundreds without charges in the days after Sept. 11, pushed immigration agents to fully use their power to deport foreigners, secured new authority to peer into private records even in libraries, and oversaw legal interpretations that opened the door to harsh interrogation techniques that critics called torture.”[2]

Ashcroft’s role in crafting these controversial policies led to several lawsuits, including one high-profile case filed by a Muslim American man who was detained, strip-searched, and shackled without charge or suspicion of terrorism.[3] In another case, a civil liberties group called the Velvet Revolution filed an ethics complaint against Ashcroft and several other Bush administration officials—including, among others, Alberto R. Gonzales, Michael B. Mukasey, Michael Chertoff, Douglas J. Feith, and David Addington—calling for the officials to be disbarred for “writing or approving legal opinions” that justified torture.[4]

Ashcroft accused his critics of aiding terrorists. “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” Ashcroft told a Senate committee in December 2001, “my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists—for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.'” Ashcroft’s remark prompted widespread criticism, with the Washington Post dubbing the allegation that critics of the “war on terror” help the terrorists the “Ashcroft smear.”[5]

On some occasions, Ashcroft challenged hardline measures favored by other members of the Bush administration. "In addition to rejecting the most expansive version of the warrantless eavesdropping program," the Post summary noted, "Ashcroft also opposed holding detainees indefinitely at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without some form of due process” and “fought to guarantee some rights for those to be tried by newly created military commissions.” Ashcroft also advocated civilian trials for some terrorist suspects, including Zacarias Moussaoui, who was accused of conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers. “These internal disputes,” added the Post, “often put Ashcroft at odds with Vice President [Dick] Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld."[6]

In a particularly infamous 2004 incident that occurred while Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from pancreatitis, Bush administration aides—including future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—visited Ashcroft and attempted to get his approval for an extension of a warrantless surveillance program. Ashcroft refused, leading to a heated confrontation, the eventual suspension of the program, and nearly to the resignation of the Justice Department’s senior leadership.[7] Subsequent reports suggested that the program may have concerned the warrantless collection of Internet “metadata,” a program that was later revived under the Obama administration.[8]

Nevertheless, Ashcroft remains an advocate of an expansive role for government intelligence services, even following revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of government abuses in vacuuming up citizens’ data. “We can ill afford to shrink intelligence in the face of a world which I think is more demanding of intelligence,” he said at the 2013 Aspen Security Forum. “Information is the best friend of prevention. … We need increased intelligence, not decreased intelligence.”[9]

Ashcroft has also advocated a “blended” approach to counterterrorism that incorporates law enforcement as well as the armed forces, asserting that “we’re still at war” and “I don't think we should shrink from using [our military].” In particular, Ashcroft implied that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were both part of the “general war on terror,” despite the fact that Iraq’s prewar connection to al-Qaeda has long been discredited. Ashcroft also expressed support for the White House’s controversial targeted assassination program, including in locales where the United States is not officially at war, such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. “The president's always been able to defend the U.S. on his own authority,” Ashcroft said. “If you wanna smoke somebody, despite the fact that we're not at war with them, you can still eliminate them.”[10]

Business Ventures

Since leaving office, Ashcroft has joined a number of commercial enterprises.

In 2005, shortly after his tenure as attorney general ended, he founded the Ashcroft Group consulting firm, which according to the Associated Press advises "clients on homeland security, law enforcement, and other issues involving business and government" and provides "strategic consulting, crisis counseling, and security and internal investigative services to corporations and other organizations.”[11]

Ashcroft’s venture attracted criticism from good government groups wary of the "revolving door" between government and industry. “Some critics find his move from the nation's chief law enforcement officer to K Street, the heart of the lobbying world, to be as undignified as it is unusual,” the New York Times reported in 2006. “Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said that because Mr. Ashcroft had worked only in government, 'he cannot claim to have any business expertise. What is he selling,' Ms. Brian asked, 'other than connections and knowledge of how to game the system from being attorney general?'” One client in particular, the consumer data firm ChoicePoint, “received millions of dollars in contracts from the Justice Department under Mr. Ashcroft as part of the war on terror and has now hired him to find more."[12]

According to The Hill, one of Ashcroft Group's first clients was the Israeli government.[13] Other clients have included Israel Aircraft Industries International, LTU Technologies, Inc., and the tech company Oracle, which successfully dodged an antitrust suit originally filed under Ashcroft after hiring his firm.[14] Ashcroft’s firm also received over $50 million in contracts from then-U.S. Attorney—and later New Jersey Governor—Chris Christie, who was later investigated for awarding the contract, one of the largest of its kind, to his former boss.[15]

In 2011, Ashcroft became an “independent director” on the board of Xe Services (now Academi), the controversial security firm formerly known as Blackwater, which has faced scores of charges related to weapons trafficking, unlawful force, and corruption.[16] Ashcroft "is a very known quantity to the federal officials that Xe will pitch," reported Wired. "Even if he’s not lobbying for Blackwater, Ashcroft’s addition on the board is meant to inspire confidence in government officials of its newfound rectitude."[17]

Ashcroft has served on the boards of several other security-related firms, including: Pride, a body armor manufacturer in which Ashcroft Group has had an equity stake; Ceelox, a biometric technology firm in which the Ashcroft Group acquired an equity stake; Innova Holdings, a robotics firm; and Dulles Research, LLC, a software security firm in which the Ashcroft Group also has an equity position. The Ashcroft Group sometimes exchanges its services for stock options.

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Sources

[1] Associated Press, "Justice Department covers partially nude statues," USA Today, January 29, 2002, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/01/29/statues.htm.

[2] Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt, "Ashcroft's Complex Tenure at Justice: On Some Issues, He Battled White House," Washington Post, May 20, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/19/AR2007051901275.html

[3] New York Times, "Indefensible Detention," March 10, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/opinion/11fri1.html?ref=johnashcroft.

[4] Scott Shane, "Advocacy Groups Seek Disbarment of Ex-Bush Administration Lawyers," May 18, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/us/19detain.html?ref=johnashcroft.

[5] Quoted by Roger Pilon, "Right, Center, & Left Support Free & Open Debate in Wartime: Dissent Does Not Give Aid, Comfort to Enemy," Cato Institute, December 10, 2001, http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/right-center-left-support-free-open-debate-wartime-dissent-does-not-give-aid-comfort-enemy.

[6] Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt, "Ashcroft's Complex Tenure at Justice: On Some Issues, He Battled White House," Washington Post, May 20, 2007, Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt, "Ashcroft's Complex Tenure at Justice: On Some Issues, He Battled White House," Washington Post, May 20, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/19/AR2007051901275.html.  .

[7] Michael Scherer, " The Ashcroft-Gonzales hospital room showdown," Salon, May 15, 2007, http://www.salon.com/2007/05/15/comey_testifies/.

[8] Charlie Savage and James Risen, "New Leak Suggests Ashcroft Confrontation Was Over N.S.A. Program," New York Times, June 27, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/us/nsa-report-says-internet-metadata-were-focus-of-visit-to-ashcroft.html?ref=johnashcroft

[9] Aspen Security Forum, 2013, http://aspensecurityforum.org/2013-video.

[10] Aspen Security Forum, 2013, http://aspensecurityforum.org/2013-video.

[11] Associated Press, "Ashcroft to Start Consulting Company," USA Today, May 2, 2005, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-05-02-ashcroft-consulting_x.htm

[12] Leslie Wayne, "Same Washington, Different Office: John Ashcroft Sets up Shop as a Well-Connected Lobbyist," New York Times, March 17, 2006, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE3DD1E31F934A25750C0A9609C8B63.

[13] Jonathan E. Kaplan, "Ashcroft Joins K Street Legions," The Hill, May 1, 2005, http://archive.is/7FrAr.

[14] Matt Stearns, "Private Sector is Paying off for Ashcroft," Kansas City Star, January 17, 2006, http://archive.is/JqiJH

[15] Andrew Kaczynski, "The Other Time Christie Was Accused Of Steering Million Dollar Contracts To Political-Connections," Buzzfeed Politics, January 13, 2014, http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/the-other-time-christie-was-accused-of-steering-million-doll.

[16] Assocaited Press, “John Ashcroft Joins Company Once Known As Blackwater,” May 4, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/04/john-ashcroft-blackwater_n_857371.html.

[17] Spencer Ackerman, "Blackwater’s New Ethics Chief: John Ashcroft," Wired "Danger Room" blog, May 4, 2011, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/05/blackwaters-new-ethics-chief-john-ashcroft/.

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John Ashcroft Résumé

Affiliations

  • Regent University: Professor Emeritus
  • Federalist Society: Member
  • National Governor's Association: Chairman (1991-1992)
  • Republican Governor's Association: Chairman (1989-1990)
  • National Association of Attorneys General: Chairman (1991)
  • Russian-American Christian University: Advisory Board Member
  • Southwest Missouri State University: Instructor of Business Law (1967-1972)


Government

  • U.S. Department of Justice: Attorney General (2001-2005)
  • U.S. Senate: Senator, R-MO (1995-2000)
  • State of Missouri: Governor (1985-1993); Attorney General (1976-1985); Assistant Attorney General (1975-1976); Auditor (1973-1975)


Business

  • Ashcroft Group: Founder and Director (2005 - )
  • Academi (Xe Services/Blackwater): Independent Director (2011- )
  • AshcroftCEA: Founder
  • Ceelox: Advisory Board Member
  • Pride: Advisory Committee Chair
  • Innova Holdings: Chair, Board of Advisers
  • Dulles Research LLC: Advisory Board Member
  • D2C Solutions: Advisory Board Member


Education

  • Yale University: BA
  • University of Chicago: JD

Related:

John Ashcroft News Feed

Former U.S Attorney General John Ashcroft Gives Thoughts on Attorney General Nominee Barr - OzarksFirst.comJames Comey, please shut up - The Week MagazineWilliam Barr, Trump attorney general nominee, backed by Justice Department alums - Washington TimesHow Independent Is An Attorney General From The President? - WKMSJohn Ashcroft speaks at NU College Republicans Event - The Daily NorthwesternIndict Me, Robert: How Mueller Won the Hearts of America - Vanity FairThe Dems' wall that worked until it didn't - WND.comSchmitt sworn in as new state attorney general - Jefferson City News TribuneSteve Bannon Angled for a Job Boosting E-Cigarette Giant Juul - The Daily BeastOct. 30, 2000: It's Jean Carnahan vs. John Ashcroft - STLtoday.comAmid probes, White House lawyers prepare defense of Trump's executive... - The Dickinson PressIn a huge win for open data, Congress passes the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act - Boing BoingNational Safe Neighborhoods Project Brings President To KC - lstribuneGoldman Sachs makes controversial defensive hire - Leaders LeagueBush AG wants to find balance in liberty, security - Beloit Daily NewsKansas governors race: Attorney group backs Laura Kelly, ex-A.G. John Ashcroft stands with Kris Kobach - The Topeka Capital-JournalLocal News: Boxx selected to AG's transition team (1/12/19) - Monett TimesFormer attorney general John Ashcroft talks national security at KPU event - The EagleChris Christie stuck by Iowa's Steve King despite past inflammatory remarks. Not anymore. - NorthJersey.comColumnist helps choose state winner of VFW oral essay contest - NewsOK.com

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