More Trouble For Ashcroft?

First Lady Laura Bush reads to children during the annual Easter Egg Roll Monday, April 9, 2007, at the White House in Washington.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
New questions are being raised about John Ashcroft's stand on gay rights.

James Hormel, who became America's first openly gay ambassador over the objection of then-Sen. Ashcroft, has joined an umbrella group of civil-rights organizations opposing Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

During Senate confirmation hearings, Ashcroft said he didn't try to block Hormel's appointment to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was gay, but because, "I had known him a long time. He had recruited me when I was a student to go to the University of Chicago Law School."

Based on that, Ashcroft said, "I made a judgement that it would be ill advised to make him an ambassador based on the totality of his record."

On Thursday, Hormel said that wasn't quite true.

Ashcroft's Judicial Tyranny
In a 1997 lecture, Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft called for ending what he termed judicial tyranny on issues including school desegregation, abortion and affirmative action in education.
"I cannot recall ever in my life having a conversation with Mr. Ashcroft," said Hormel, who just returned to the United States from overseas. "I have had absolutely no contact with him in almost 34 years since he left the University of Chicago Law School."

It was therefore a surprise, Hormel said, when Ashcroft said the two had known each other for a long time.

Hormel said Ashcroft, then a Republican senator from Missouri, never attended any of his hearings, despite being a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was considering him.

"I wrote to him directly and requested an opportunity to meet with him,'' said Hormel, a San Francisco philanthropist and heir to Hormel Foods Corp. "And I called his office several times and never got a response from him. I have no basis for knowing what reasons he used to vote against me."

During the confirmation hearings, Ashcroft assured Democrats he had never discriminated against gays when hiring staffers, nor would he as attorney general.

That statement was disputed Thursday, too.

The Washington Post quoted Paul Offner, a Democratic health care expert, as saying when he applied for a job in Missouri in 1985, then Missori Gov. Ashcroft began the interview by asking him about his sexual orientation.

Offner said the query was posed in a way that indicated he would not be hired if he was gay.

"Mr. Offner, do you have the same sexual preference of most men," Offner, who was single at the time, quoted Ashcroft as saying.

Ashcroft doesn't remember the meeting, but Offner, now married, replied yes, though he didn't get the job.

Despite these new accusations, Ashcroft is expected to be confirmed by the Senate, which the Republicans control because of Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote as the body's president.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has predicted Ashcroft's confirmation although Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., leading the opposition, has said he plans extensive debate and has hinted at a filibuster. While a simple majority is needed for confirmation, 60 votes are necessary to stop delaying tactics.

"I don't know whether there's 40 votes, 50 votes, 55 votes," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Thursday. Daschle said he would "discourage Democratic filibusters, but it doesn't mean that any one of my colleagues may not still make the effort. It's not my expectation that there will be one."

At least three Democrats have said they would support the nomination while several said they would oppose Ashcroft. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced her opposition Thursday.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have delayed a vote on the nominee until next week, insisting they need more information on Ashcroft's views, including answers to hundreds of written questions and a complete videotape of a 1999 commencement address he delivered at Bob Jones University.


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