While Bush apologists attempt to assure the public that John Ashcroft is a man of principle who will support civil rights laws and other laws of the land, two recent reports contribute to the disturbing picture of the attorney-general designate as someone who on the one hand consorts with the most extreme conservative elements, and on the other is willing to look the other way when faced with wrongdoing by someone to whom he has a personal connection.
On Saturday, January 13, 2001, Time.com reported that while considering a run for the presidency three years ago, John Ashcroft wrote a personal note to Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. Two years earlier Pratt was forced to leave his position as co-chairman of the Buchanan campaign when reports surfaced connecting him to leaders of white supremacist militia groups, including the Aryan Nations, and the Ku Klux Klan. Ashcroft's note described his change in attitude toward a juvenile-justice bill, "Thanks to you and GOA."
The bill in question proposed tougher penalties on street gangs, and was supported by the National Rifle Association. GOA objected to a provision that allowed prosecution of gun offenses under the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In his letter to Pratt Ashcroft vowed "...to see that the RICO provisions are stripped from the bill...."
Pratt caught the attention of some later in 1998 when he called for more guns in schools after a 15-year old Oregon boy shot his parents and two students. In addition to his GOA activities, Pratt is president of an organization accused of immigrant-bashing, English First. Ashcroft's letter is posted on the GOA web site.
Meanwhile Salon.com reported that Ashcroft's nephew received only probation after a major marijuana bust that could have landed him in federal prison. Alex Ashcroft and his brother Adam were arrested in 1992 for growing approximately 60 marijuana plants in a sophisticated operation that included light, irrigation and security systems. John Ashcroft was governor of Missouri at the time, and sought to maintain a reputation of being tough on drugs. The quantity of marijuana that his nephew was growing could have triggered federal minimum sentencing laws that Ashcroft sought to strengthen as a senator. Alex Ashcroft was prosecuted in state court, however, and received a sentence of probation. Adam Ashcroft was not prosecuted. A lawyer for a co-defendant reported that Alex Ashcroft tested positive for drugs during his first month of probation, but was allowed to remain free.
It was widely known that governor Ashcroft was Alex's uncle, although there is no evidence that John Ashcroft intervened on his nephew's behalf. Nonetheless, others convicted of the same offense in Missouri have received two year federal prison sentences. In an unrelated matter, Ashcroft's drug czar during his term as governor was forced to resign after revelations of his own drug use. Leniency for Ashcroft's nephew is especially ironic given John Ashcroft's public campaign for tougher drug sentencing; Ashcroft has also opposed curtailing racial profiling, and reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.