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When George W. Bush was finally certified the winner of the 2000 election, Missouri Senator John Ashcroft—who had just lost his re-election bid under bizarre circumstances—sent him a note offering his services. Little did Ashcroft know what he was getting into. Bush picked him to be Attorney General, and in his brutal confirmation battle he had to face former Senate colleagues treating him as a racist, sexist, Bible-thumping pariah.
The confirmation hearing was only the foretaste. He was now head of a Department of Justice which, under the Clinton Administration, had earned widespread scorn for its bloody mishandling of Waco and Ruby Ridge. It had successfully prosecuted Timothy McVeigh, but just as Ashcroft was working out the thorny details of McVeigh's execution, the FBI discovered thousands of documents that it ought to have turned over to McVeigh's attorneys; the courts decided the conviction was still valid, but the oversight could have been costly. At about the same time, the FBI learned that a trusted agent, Robert Hanssen, was a Soviet spy who had done incalculable damage. And before the administration's first year was out, America had suffered the attacks of 9/11.
John Ashcroft has serious things to say about American law enforcement and security policy, but he brings us into these discussions easily, through his own experiences. He tells his story engagingly and well, and we come away from it with a sense that he was the right man for a difficult time.
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