Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (AP) - Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft spoke about his faith, not issues, when he received an honorary degree from Bob Jones University in 1999, a congressman recalled Friday.

Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was on the stage during Ashcroft's commencement remarks, which have been sought by the Senate Judiciary Committee in preparation for confirmation hearings next week.

Ashcroft's conservative views have drawn opposition from liberal organizations and some Democrats, but the woman whose husband posthumously defeated Ashcroft said she would introduce him Tuesday.

While she did not commit to support him, Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., agreed to the introduction at Ashcroft's request, her top aide told The Associated Press. Ashcroft's allies contended this was a favorable signal to other Democrats.

Graham, who also was presented an honorary degree at the 1999 commencement, commented that Ashcroft said nothing about race, sexual orientation or other issues of the day. Rather, he spoke "about faith and how it affected him in his life," Graham said.

"It was consistent with the moment," he said.

He described Ashcroft's critics as "a group (of people) that has an agenda of making sure government leans to the left and not to the right. They feel threatened by religious conservatism."

President-elect Bush's nominee to head the Justice Department is his most controversial Cabinet choice, with much of the criticism raised by Senate Democrats. The GOP will have a one-vote majority in the Senate following inauguration Jan. 20.

Carnahan will reserve judgment on the nomination until hearings have concluded, she said in a letter to Ashcroft. "However, I am glad to extend the home-state courtesy of introducing you at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday," she wrote.

An Ashcroft ally, Republican National Committee political director David Israelite, insisted the development sent a positive sign to Democrats. He added that "she probably regrets the incident with the opposition research files."

Meanwhile, Ashcroft's abortion-rights opponents said they would turn up the heat as he met Friday with at least one Senate critic. Anti-Ashcroft radio ads paid for by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League will begin airing in seven states starting Monday.

"For two decades Ashcroft has advocated the most extreme positions against a woman's right to choose," the ads say. "The United States attorney general should uphold our freedoms, not undermine our rights."

NARAL spokeswoman Julie Piscitelli would not say how much the group is spending, only that it is "six figures."

Piscitelli said the radio markets were selected based on states represented by senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct the hearings on Ashcroft, and also the home states of other influential lawmakers. Those states are Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat said his panel has received no documents or other background materials on Ashcroft, a former senator from Missouri who was voted out of office last November. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont wrote Vice President-elect Dick Cheney to reiterate the request, saying hearings can begin but a vote cannot be taken before the record is complete.

Of particular interest to Leahy is a tape of Ashcroft's 1999 commencement speech at Bob Jones University, a Christian fundamentalist school in Greenville, S.C., that was criticized for intolerance after Bush visited the campus during the campaign. The school until recently banned interracial dating or marriage.

The school will not release the tape without a direct request from Ashcroft, Leahy said, but Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said a transcript of the speech will be provided.

Leahy's emphasis on Bob Jones University is another sign that Senate Democrats will focus on accusations that Ashcroft has been insensitive to issues involving minorities.

The chief indicator is their invitation of testimony from a black judge whose chance at the federal bench was scuttled by Ashcroft's opposition. The jurist, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, has agreed to appear Thursday, two days before Bush's inauguration.

Ashcroft said the judge was "pro-criminal," but some of the senator's critics accused him of racism.

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