John Ashcroft's First Year as Attorney General

Executive Branch Orders and Other Assertions of Power

Almost immediately after pushing through the anti-terrorism legislation, the Justice Department under Ashcroft began to undertake many actions that erode fundamental civil liberties and violate the fundamental principle of checks and balances. They amount to unilateral assertions of power, in effect efforts to amend the Constitution and laws by executive fiat.

Faced with the attorney general's continuing lack of consultation with his former collegues, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sent Ashcroft three letters in a two-week period expressing concern about Justice Department secrecy in the continuing terrorism investigation. Leahy also wrote that he was "deeply troubled" by Ashcroft's decision to allow government intercepts of conversations between people in federal custody and their lawyers without a court order. "Since we provided you with new statutory authorities in the USA Patriot Act, I have felt a growing concern that the trust and cooperation Congress provided is proving to be a one-way street."34

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