JOHN ASHCROFT: [SINGING] ...BEFORE, FROM ROCKY COAST TO GOLDEN SHORE, LET THE MIGHTY EAGLE SOAR, SOAR WITH... [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've probably heard that a lot this week. It is, of course, Attorney General John Ashcroft singing Praise. Recently, though, he's been singing a different tune, one of bitterness and defensiveness, coinciding with his resignation as attorney general. Bob looked back on his tenure which, not infrequently, has been the stuff of melodrama.
BOB GARFIELD: Goodbyes are never easy, least of all for John Ashcroft. This week, he used his resignation letter plaintively to list his successes as attorney general, as if to ask how so much effort, so much passion, so much law enforcement could have resulted in so little love. In fact, wasn't there a song about that? [TAPE PLAYS]
JULIE ANDREWS: [SINGING] I MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING-- SOMETHING GOOD. [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: Something good. Well, thanks to Ashcroft and his fellow singing senators, Capitol Hill was alive with the sound of music. He was a regular Baron Von Trapp. Maybe a humorless, inflexible disciplinarian on the surface, but with what underneath? Four years ago, this was what his confirmation hearings set out to discover. Unfortunately, the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats didn't ask him to sing. They asked him to explain giving an interview to a magazine called Southern Partisan, which had once printed stories with a nostalgic take on, you know, what do you call it? -- Slavery. [TAPE PLAYS]
SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN: Is the Southern Partisan magazine racist in your opinion?
JOHN ASHCROFT: I probably should do more due diligence on it. I know they've been accused of being racist.
SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN: I got that, John, but... [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: Still, he was confirmed, vowing to diligently uphold the Constitution. A very good opportunity to get started might have been the Enron scandal, but as it turned out, Ashcroft couldn't personally prosecute the bosses, because they were big campaign contributors. [TAPE PLAYS]
JOHN ASHCROFT: I've made clear that I believe that the Justice Department and its function should be undertaken by others, and I will have no involvement in the matter because of my recusal. [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: While he wasn't attending to a multi-billion dollar swindle, Ashcroft did keep busy barring press interviews with condemned bomber Timothy McVeigh and battling Armageddon. "Cornhole Armageddon," to be precise -- a porn film. Corporate crime was running rampant, but the attorney general zeroed right in on "Depravity in Deutschland" and "Ass Clowns III." September 11th, of course, changed everything. Now a wartime law enforcement official, General Ashcroft started rounding up foreigners and detaining them to hearing --without legal counsel, without charges, and without public scrutiny of any kind. [TAPE PLAYS]
WOMAN: [SINGING] CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN, SEARCH HIGH AND LOW. FOLLOW EVERY BYWAY, EVERY PATH YOU KNOW. [TAPE ENDS]
BOB GARFIELD: The Patriot Act gave the attorney general broad powers to curtail basic civil rights -including protection from arbitrary search and seizure and domestic surveillance -- all in absolute secrecy. Ashcroft responded to the outrage of civil libertarians by demanding more powers still, such as Operation TIPS which asked UPS men and other brown shirts to spy on their fellow Americans. [FILM CLIP PLAYS]
BOB GARFIELD: Ashcroft lost a big battle with proposed followup legislation commonly known as Son of Patriot Act, or as even the Republican Congress thought of it, Ass Clowns II. His rationale was that these law enforcement tools had helped prosecute more than a hundred suspicious characters. What he failed to understand was that these tools also terrorized thousands of innocents. Later, in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Ashcroft was hauled before Congress to be lectured on why, despite Justice Department memos suggesting otherwise, his country does not sanction torture. And his investigation into White House leaks, ostensibly to find who disclosed classified information for partisan purposes, has resulted in two jail sentences -- for journalists. John, John, John. We don't know what further excesses are in store with your replacement, but you can't worry about that now, Mr. Attorney General. [MUSIC FROM THE SOUND OF MUSIC PLAYS] Run, John, run. Run and sing. In fact, let's all sing.
VON TRAPP FAMILY SINGERS IN THE SOUND OF MUSIC: [SINGING] SO LONG, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOODBYE. GOODBYE-- GOODBYE. [TAPE ENDS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the hack's hack -- Jimmy Breslin. And taking a whack at lesser hacks.