In his first public interview since taking office after a fiercelycontested nomination hearing, Attorney General John Ashcroft last nightreaffirmed that his Pentecostal faith would not get in the way of his job asthe country's top law enforcer.

"I have always believed that people who put themselves above the law andsay that I'm smarter than the law and therefore I shouldn't enforce this orI should change that, were adverse to the interests of our culture," he toldCNN's Larry King. "We are a culture that respects law, and I certainly wantto be that. And I have made that pledge, and I would break the mostimportant of my own convictions if I didn't enforce the law."

The former Missouri governor and senator, an Assemblies of God layman, wasfiercely attacked for his conservative views during the most hotly disputedof President Bush's Cabinet nominations. Speaking on "Larry King Live" justfour days after his appointment was confirmed, he said that "everyone whoenforces any laws enforces laws that they don't agree with.

"None of us agrees with all the permutations of all the laws. Ninety-nineand forty-four-one-hundredths percent of the laws in this country are lawsthat are totally consistent with my beliefs...when I raised my hand toenforce the law, I meant all of it."

When pressed by King, Ashcroft said that if ever a time came when hisfaith might put him in a "moral dilemma," he would "have to resign." Somegood attorney generals had to resign in the past, he said, referencing the"Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973 when then-Attorney General ElliotRichardson stepped down rather than follow President Nixon's order to fireWatergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Earlier Ashcroft commented: "If my faith ever really interfered with myenforcing the law, it would be rare. My faith is, and the way I read theBible -- and I do read the Bible -- is that people are supposed to obey thelaw and that the authority is duly constituted and is in place as a resultof God's will. And that people who believe like I do, their belief is toobey the government and the law."

Ashcroft said that enforcing the law was "one of my principles." He added:"That's one of the things I believe in. That's why I've devoted my life togovernment...If I decide that I can set the rule of law aside, so caneveryone else, and you don't have a free society. You have anarchy."

He said that he had been surprised by the attention his nomination hadgarnered. "There are times when people misinterpret, misunderstand the faiththat an individual has, and I guess it's understandable that that happens."Although his hearing had been "aggressive" and "energetic," he had not beenangry. "My mother always taught me that I couldn't really be hurt by whatcame out of other people's mouths, that what would hurt me would be whatcame out of my mouth," he commented.

During his hour-long interview, Ashcroft said he would be encouragingtougher stands on gun control and the drug war. He criticized PresidentClinton's comments about having not inhaled when he smoked marijuana, butwishing he had, as sending "the wrong signal" to young people.
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