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

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

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

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

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

Earlier Ashcroft commented: "If my faith ever really interfered with my enforcing the law, it would be rare. My faith is, and the way I read the Bible -- and I do read the Bible -- is that people are supposed to obey the law and that the authority is duly constituted and is in place as a result of God's will. And that people who believe like I do, their belief is to obey 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 to government...If I decide that I can set the rule of law aside, so can everyone else, and you don't have a free society. You have anarchy."

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

During his hour-long interview, Ashcroft said he would be encouraging tougher stands on gun control and the drug war. He criticized President Clinton's comments about having not inhaled when he smoked marijuana, but wishing he had, as sending "the wrong signal" to young people.
more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad