- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, initially considered one of President Bush's most conservative appointments, is the target of criticism from unlikely sources.

Conservative scholars fault him for not standing up for personal freedoms. Some anonymous White House officials say Mr. Ashcroft has made too many announcements, big and small, about the war on terrorism and has distracted public attention from Mr. Bush.

The harshest criticism, however, has come from Mr. Ashcroft's fellow Christian conservatives.

"Ashcroft has been too timid on an agenda," said Patrick Trueman, legal consultant to the American Family Association and other social conservative groups.

Mr. Trueman, chief of the Child Exploitation Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division under Presidents Reagan and Bush, said Mr. Ashcroft "lacks a vision for the office voice except that [vision] which was imposed on him by the events of September 11," he said.

Although he is an ordained minister who has spoken out against homosexuality, the former Missouri governor and senator has drawn ire from the religious right and incredulity from a Republican who once held his job for allowing a homosexual pride celebration to take place on Wednesday at the Justice Department.

"I think it's just dumb," the former attorney general said. "It's unbelievable this is happening. Why let a private organization or concern that has nothing to do with the Justice Department do something like this?"

Mr. Ashcroft permitted or directed his deputy to address the homosexual event on Wednesday, to the annoyance of many strong Bush backers.

"I think this is more hurtful to the president than anything else that can be done," said the former attorney general, saying he regards himself as a friend of Mr. Ashcroft's. "To have a member of his Cabinet condoning homosexuality in a public building? Don't forget where the [presidents voter] base is. It's Bible-believing, law-abiding citizens."

A Justice official who asked not to be identified said that after Mr. Ashcroft had declined to address the homosexual group, Deputy Attorney General D. Larry Thompson agreed to do it. Asked if Mr. Ashcroft knew the homosexual celebration was going to take place and that his deputy was going to address the group, the Justice official said, "Yes."

But when asked if Mr. Ashcroft could have stopped the event from taking place or ordered Mr. Thompson not to appear, the spokesman said, "I don't want to go there," and ended the interview.

Concerned Women for America President Sandy Rios and Culture and Family Institute Director Robert Knight also condemned Mr. Ashcroft for sanctioning the department's homosexual pride event.

"After all the work we did to stand up to the liberal mudslinging during Ashcroft's confirmation fight, this is what we get?" Mr. Knight said.

Many Republicans, even staunch conservatives, are personally tolerant toward homosexuals.

Mr. Bush, who appointed Mr. Ashcroft as attorney general, appointed a homosexual as ambassador to Romania. But that appointment was made over objections from religious conservatives, an important component of the Republican electoral coalition, who view homosexual behavior as sin.

Mrs. Rios said Mr. Ashcroft's failure to stop the celebration "will only increase tensions between the Bush administration and his pro-family base."

Some of Mr. Ashcroft's own conservative supporters have complained that he is at times too eager to please top adminstration officials and at other times too eager to promote himself rather than advance the conservative agenda.

"Bush made a campaign promise to revitalize prosecutions against pornographers," said Mr. Trueman. "People rallied behind Ashcroft because they thought he would stand up to pornographers. There hasn't been an obscenity prosecution in nearly a year and half."

The attorney general's actions since September 11 have disappointed other elements of the Republican coalition. Many were critical, for example, when the Bush administration asserted sweeping new police powers for the government this week.

Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Bush have adopted "an attitude that they will push the envelope on a lot of these police powers. That is not proper stance for our attorney general," said Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice. "He took an oath to support and defend the Constitution."

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