- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday that the FBI will be examined in an internal Justice Department probe to determine how accused former agent Robert Philip Hanssen managed to sell secrets to Russia for 15 years without being detected.

Making the talk show rounds yesterday, Mr. Ashcroft also said that the department would review procedures regarding presidential pardons and answered numerous questions on race issues.

The usually reticent Mr. Ashcroft discussed the fallout of espionage charges against Mr. Hanssen, a counterintelligence expert who had worked at the FBI for 27 years.

Mr. Ashcroft said on ABC's "This Week" that the agency would be scrutinized in an internal Justice Department investigation to determine how Mr. Hanssen, who is charged with selling intelligence information to the Soviet Union and then to Russia, was able to do so without being noticed.

The attorney general said he had ordered the department's inspector general to review FBI security procedures. Mr. Ashcroft said the inspector general would be "following avenues that might not otherwise be determined productive avenues for examination."

He added that Mr. Hanssen was responsible for "a grave loss" in national security.

Mr. Ashcroft also discussed the subject of President Clinton's last-minute pardons on "Fox News Sunday."

He said the Justice Department is reviewing its procedures to ensure that federal prosecutors and crime victims are made aware of clemency applications.

Mr. Ashcroft said he was "troubled about a variety of things in relation to the pardons. I think pardons ought to be used to correct problems in the justice system, not to reward friends or otherwise."

The attorney general said he has decided to review procedures so prosecutors and victims "are adequately heard" when the department is considering a pardon.

The Bush administration has said that White House Counsel Al Gonzales was working with the Justice Department on a general review of policies, with an eye toward developing rules for issuing presidential pardons.

"Obviously this president is concerned that he do those things which are appropriate, and we're reviewing our pardon procedures to make sure that we provide him with the best possible basis for his decision-making," Mr. Ashcroft said. "And we all know that it is the president's decision to make as to whether or not pardons are granted."

Mr. Ashcroft also defended his stance on the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, who was Mr. Clinton's nominee in 1999 for a seat on the federal bench in Missouri.

The attorney general, at that time a Missouri senator, called Justice White "pro-criminal" and did not support his nomination.

"I don't believe I made a mistake in representing his record," Mr. Ashcroft said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He added that, if placed in the same circumstances, he would do the same thing again.

Mr. Ashcroft's opposition to the White nomination was viewed by many black leaders as a sign of his insensitivity on race issues. He has been trying to improve relations with black leaders since his congressional approval as attorney general in January.

Mr. Ashcroft has lunched with the Congressional Black Caucus, issued a mandate to lawmakers to assemble a bill that will address racial profiling and, yesterday, noted that he has asked that eight new attorneys be assigned to follow voting rights issues.

Mr. Ashcroft said on "Fox News Sunday" that he supported a "special program to make sure that we not only assure the right of individuals to have access to voting locations, and that every citizen understands that he or she is eligible to vote when properly registered, but that we also have the right kind of integrity in the voting process."

Referring to accusations by many black leaders that during the presidential election in Florida minorities were barred from access to the voting booths, Mr. Ashcroft said that if there was evidence that lawfully registered voters had been denied their right to vote, "the Justice Department is interested. And when we find credible evidence that would support a prosecution, we'll make that prosecution."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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