Conversation: John Ashcroft
God's faithfulness during national crisis
In 2000, John Ashcroft's nomination as U.S. attorney general came on the heels of losing his U.S. Senate seat to a deceased opponent. After accepting the nomination, Ashcroft withstood tumultuous confirmation hearings where his career, faith and life were scrutinized, questioned and debated. Within months of his confirmation as attorney general terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Ashcroft embraced the challenge of tracking down terrorists and keeping America safe. But doing so did not happen without more scrutiny and controversy.
In Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice, Ashcroft gives an insider's look into the historic events that took place during his term. Recently, Managing Editor Kirk Noonan spoke with Ashcroft about the importance of prayer, God's sustaining grace, and serving morally and ethically under extreme pressure.
tpe: During your 2000 Senate re-election campaign, then-Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash while en route to a campaign stop. Despite his death, you still lost your re-election bid to him. What did losing teach you about God?
ASHCROFT: The tragic death of Mel Carnahan was a very difficult time. It was extremely hard for anyone to know what to do next. So you do what you believe is right and trust God. I believed the right thing to do was stop our campaign.
At the time I did not know I would lose the election or that the loss would eventually lead to my becoming the U.S. attorney general. I believed then, as I do now, that God works all things out for His good.
tpe: What role did the prayers of others play when you faced hostile questioning during your Senate confirmations for U.S. attorney general?
ASHCROFT: Those prayers were comforting to me and provided a settled capacity to accept the final outcome. That turned out to be essential to my confirmation. The hearings did not provoke me to say anything or conduct myself in such a manner that could be the basis for not confirming me or be the basis for future difficulties as I served America as attorney general.
tpe: From your experience, prayer works?
ASHCROFT: Indeed it does. But we will never know completely the impact of prayers until they are revealed to us in heaven. Yet even the way my mind was quickened during the confirmation — the questions friend or foe asked — all, I believe, were influenced by the providence of God as part of His divine response to the prayers of others.
tpe: During the confirmation process how did you not become jaded or mean-spirited when former colleagues attacked you?
ASHCROFT: In part it was a result of my experience in the Senate, knowing how politics operate. In the final analysis I was trusting God to put me in a setting where I could do things that might be pleasing to Him.
tpe: How would you describe your days as attorney general?
ASHCROFT: They were very challenging. I ended most days with a sense of exhaustion. But many times I had the satisfaction of giving my best to a noble responsibility. The opportunity to work on noble endeavors is a blessing.
It is a privilege to know you have important things to do that relate to your own well-being, the well-being of liberty and the survival of freedom. These are fundamental values God created human beings to have and enjoy.
tpe: In your book you admire the men and women who helped keep further terrorist attacks from happening.
ASHCROFT: I am grateful to God and others that we were able to avoid subsequent attacks by terrorists. Scripture says, ÒExcept the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vainÓ (Psalm 127:1, KJV). We should be thankful for the many individuals who participated in our defense and we should also be thankful to God.
tpe: You acted boldly in matters the media tagged as controversial. Did that decision-making keep America safer?
ASHCROFT: I don't think there is any question America is safer today. The values we secured are the values of liberty and freedom.
God created men to be free and make choices. Protecting the environment in which people have the dignity of making choices — to do that which is right, to focus on things of virtue, to have opportunities to succeed and to respect other individuals — is what I strived to defend.
In doing so, liberty was not curtailed; it was enhanced. Freedoms were not diminished; they were protected.
Recent history has shown that though some of my decisions were viewed as controversial, fears by some of lost liberty have not materialized. There is no trail of victims nor were rights diminished.
tpe: What did your faith look like on a daily basis as attorney general?
ASHCROFT: My practice is to start each day with a renewing of my faith and mind reflecting on God's nature and goodness.
One of the controversies early in my tenure occurred when certain people became distressed that I was participating in a time of prayer, Bible reading and Scripture memorization at the Justice Department. No other person was required to attend this prework activity. It was simply my way to invite the presence and wisdom of God into my public service. At the very height of my ambition in serving the country I wanted to do it well, with both the blessing and wisdom of God.
tpe: When did you commit your life to Christ?
ASHCROFT: I have made a number of confessions of my sin nature and professions of faith. Over 50 years ago, at a 1953 crusade, I made a public confession. It was a special time.
tpe: Your father was a highly regarded minister and educator in the Assemblies of God. How do you remember him?
ASHCROFT: My father was dedicated to the Spirit of Christ. He was a person of prayer. His sense of calling and ministry transcended virtually everything else our family did.
He considered teaching the priority of Christ's mission the highest responsibility he had to his family. He invited us to understand the satisfaction and sacrifice associated with pursuing Christ.
He taught us that forgiveness, redemption, healing and restoration are the things of real value. Any sacrifice we made as a family because of his devotion to those values was a worthwhile investment.
tpe: What advice would you give a young person with political aspirations?
ASHCROFT: I am the only person in history to lose a Senate seat to a deceased opponent, so I do not consider myself a political expert. I have lost elections in three out of the last four decades. Yet, I have had the profound privilege of serving as Missouri's auditor, attorney general and governor, U.S. senator and then as the U.S. attorney general.
I got involved in politics in such an unorthodox way it shows you there is no single way of entry into this arena.
tpe: Do you have further political aspirations?
ASHCROFT: None. I've retired from politics.
tpe: Where does your career find you now?
ASHCROFT: I started The Ashcroft Group. Much of what I do there deals with my counseling parties to major national and international corporate mergers and acquisitions.
I am also delighted to teach law at Regent University Law School in Virginia Beach, Va. Regent is a dynamic legal environment. This last year Regent Law students won both the National Moot Court and Moot Negotiations championships — the first and only time any law school has held both awards.
tpe: You've done so much as a public servant and history will dictate that legacy, but what do you hope is your personal legacy?
ASHCROFT: I'd like to be known as a person who was faithful to the values that are at the heart of my beliefs.
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