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Ashcroft News Conference at Justice Department

Aired February 13, 2002 - 13:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get you to Turner General quickly, John Ashcroft talking about a new gun initiative earlier today. Also right now still speaking there in Washington. We shall listen and track now.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: position to announce any specific leads from the alert issued by the FBI. I know that there have been individuals who have provided information, but I'm not sure of the extent to which that information has proved to be useful.

Yes sir?

QUESTION: Attorney General, has the alert gotten any more specific? There's a feeling that people aren't saying so, but the alert is more pertinent to U.S. facilities outside the United States than inside the United States. Is it still a worldwide, domestic, or foreign, or has the alert become more specific?

ASHCROFT: We have not refined the alert to narrow its focus. The alert was issued. It regarded a rather specific time interval, and we felt that it contained the kind of information which we ought to share with both the American people and individuals around the world who would seek to assist us in curtailing terrorism.

This administration believes that the public plays a very important role in protecting this culture and other cultures from terrorist attacks, and frankly, we commend members of the public who have been helpful. The alert was shared publicly with that in mind.

QUESTION: Since the alert has been issued, recent communications of law enforcement assets have shifted around the country in the last 48 hours. For example, reshifting FBI agents in and out of Salt Lake. Can you comment at all about movement of personnel in another location, or numbers of people moving?

ASHCROFT: My -- you know how clearly we have intended and carefully we have planned to make the Olympics a secure environment. We will continue to do everything possible to make the Olympics a secure environment. We believe that that is being done and are grateful for the way in which the Olympics have been conducted.

I think it would be inappropriate -- as staff from one time and another is either relieved or redirected -- to draw conclusions based on those. Yes sir?

QUESTION: Have you cleared Lofti Raissi of any suspicion regarding the September 11th attacks, and if so, for that suspicion or blame at all, can you say why he was held so long?

ASHCROFT: First of all, let me thank our counterparts in Great Britain for their cooperation in every respect as its related to the conduct of the investigation following September the 11th.

I'm not in a position to make a comment about any other circumstances related to Mr. Raissi?

QUESTION: On the same subject, though, Mr. Attorney General, the judge did say yesterday that there is no likelihood of terrorism charges being brought against him in the near future. How far would you accept the judge's determination?

ASHCROFT: I'll let the judge speak for himself. It's not the custom of this department to prognosticate on the potential of charges. If we do file charges they'd be announced and the papers providing the basis for the charge would be filed with the court and also provide the basis for information regarding the charges.

QUESTION: General, the gun control groups -- back on the gun issue -- have been critical of the Justice Department previously for not allowing the FBI to search purchase records against the list of the detainees post-September 11. Do any of these proposals deal with that at all? Will you be able to retroactively go back and do those kind of searches or is that not addressed?

ASHCROFT: We believe that the utilization of purchase records for purposes other than the auditing of the system is prohibited by the Brady law, which was enacted in 1994. And for us to contravene that would be inappropriate. This department considers living within the limits of the law as one of its primary responsibilities.

QUESTION: To follow up, would you consider any changes to the law that would allow you to do that? That was another thing that was being called for.

ASHCROFT: There are individuals in the Congress who are working to provide a variety of ways of making sure that we provide additional safety, and this department is always open to individuals and to proposals that we believe, consistent with the rights expressed in the Constitution, to safeguard the safety and security of individuals here in the country.

Thank you very much.

HEMMER: Quickly there, the Attorney General John Ashcroft, a variety of issues there. One of them being the terror alert announced by the FBI on Monday night at this point. The attorney general said -- quote -- "We have not refined that alert, but based on the specific time we were told," and also stressing that -- quote -- "based on the public of the U.S., the public plays a very important role," he says, "in protecting America." Again, the Attorney General John Ashcroft quickly, with comments there in Washington.

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