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Interview With John Ashcroft and Ted Olson

Aired December 17, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, exclusive, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Solicitor General Ted Olson. How safe are we from the kind of terrorism that killed Ted's wife, Barbara Olson?
John Ashcroft, Ted Olson, their first joint interview, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

I haven't been able to check all of the history, but I don't know if an attorney general and a solicitor general have ever appeared on television show together. Maybe it's happened, we're not sure. But it's a great pleasure to welcome return visits for both, the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, the solicitor general of the United States, Ted Olson.

By the way, in the 2001 Supreme Court term, Olson won eight out eight cases he argued. His office won 83 percent of the 65 cases they argued. His wife, of course, the attorney, best-selling author and frequent guest on this show, Barbara Olson, died in the terrorist plane attack on the Pentagon on September 11.

First things first. Any comments, General Ashcroft -- may I call you John?



KING: He was one of your Singing Senators. Any thoughts on the Trent Lott controversy?

ASHCROFT: Well, the president spoke very eloquently about the position of this administration, and it was simply that every day America lived under segregation was a day that we betrayed the principles of this country. And he's made it clear that that's the position of this administration.

He stated the position very eloquently. For me to add or detract from it simply wouldn't be appropriate.

KING: But you know the senator well. You served with him in the Senate. Did it surprise you that he said, though, what he said?

ASHCROFT: Well, Trent Lott has been my friend for a long time and served him very well -- I served with him and enjoyed my service with him. The president has really spoken clearly for this administration on this issue, and I think I'll leave the situation there. KING: Missouri was a border state. Did you grow up in that kind of atmosphere too?

ASHCROFT: Well, Missouri was a state that had varying conditions, and when I was a young person, there were segregated schools prior to the decision of the United States Supreme Court. And when the order of the court came through, the schools integrated in our community very happily, as they did in the community of Larry Thompson, who's the deputy attorney general from Hannibal, Missouri.

And Larry went to segregated schools for the first half of his schooling, and by the end of his senior year, he was the student body president in Hannibal, Missouri of the high school there. So, those kinds of integration stories are success stories and are part of the...

KING: Mississippi -- Missouri was easier than Mississippi.

ASHCROFT: Well, I wasn't in Mississippi, so I don't know.

KING: Ted, do you have any thoughts?

TED OLSON, SOLICITOR GENERAL: No, I don't have anything to add.

KING: Do you support what John said?

OLSON: Well, of course, I agree with what John said, and I do think that the president has spoken for the administration. And I think that's probably all that needs to be said.

KING: OK. Every time you hear about security in the war on terror, about which we'll spend some time, do you think about Barbara?

OLSON: Well, I think about Barbara on those occasions and a lot of other occasions, too. It's really the sort of thing that you can -- one never forgets.

As you know, because Barbara was so close to you and enjoyed herself so much on this show, she was so much full of life. And so many of your (UNINTELLIGIBLE) must say this now, so many of the people that view your program have written to me over the last year-and-a- quarter, and I'm grateful for those sentiments that they've expressed to me.

KING: Do you drive by the Pentagon at all? Do you have to occasionally go by?

OLSON: I don't usually have occasion to do that. I guess I couldn't drive by the Pentagon or see other reminders of Barbara. But I also have to emphasize that there were thousands of other victims that day, and other people in America feel the same kind of grief and the same kind of memories come back to them.

KING: What's the state of the war, assessing the effectiveness? Last week, the FBI chief, Robert Mueller, told the AP that nearly 100 terrorist attacks, some intended to take place on U.S. soil, had been averted since September 11. Do you want to elaborate?

ASHCROFT: Well, we've been doing a lot, and adopting new processes and procedures to try and be disruptive of any terrorist organizations or attacks. I mean, the first thing we did was start to arrest people and prosecute people that we believe were associated with the pent (ph) bomb situation.

And we've had almost 130 of those as prosecutions. I think there are 99 individuals that have been convicted, who were people who were very closely associated with the terrorists, or we felt had kind of the terrorism linkage. And they were involved in crimes of either document fraud or some other kind of criminal activity.

KING: Prosecuted and successfully then.

ASHCROFT: Well, the 99 are convictions. We have some others that haven't yet been...

KING: Well, there are some who are saying there's been no convictions in the war...

ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, you have convictions of people like Richard Reid as well, the shoe bomber. You had John Walker Lindh that's a conviction of an individual who was fighting against the United States with the Taliban forces. And so, we've had dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of convictions.

We believe that there are other individuals that require our attention. We've followed about 205 leads that come from the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force that the president set up immediately after the event. Some individuals that we haven't apprehended, we haven't apprehended them because we think surveillance is more valuable to us than their apprehension.

KING: So, you're still looking at people now...

ASHCROFT: Indeed we are.

KING: ... who might connect you to other people.

ASHCROFT: Indeed we are.

KING: And you stay on top of this every day.

ASHCROFT: Well, we stay as on top of it as we possibly can, and...

KING: Would you say, would you use the words "successful so far?"

ASHCROFT: Well, I think you have to say that it's been successful in preventing another serious major attack in the United States. I thank God for that. I thank the people of the United States for adjusting and accepting the adjustments that are necessary here. We've had a major reformat of the way the FBI operates. We've had a significant improvement in the way the FBI, for instance, relates to the CIA the intelligence operations, including other intelligence operations. We had the Congress to thank for passing the USA Patriot Act.

There used to be literally legislative or legal walls, barriers that kept one agency, an intelligence agency, from talking to a law enforcement agency. And the rules were so strict that sometimes you had two agents in the same office, like an FBI office, one working on an intelligence matter, one working on a law enforcement matter, and there were rules that kept them from talking to each other.

KING: Rules?

ASHCROFT: Rules and literally laws.

KING: And that's been changed.

ASHCROFT: Those have been changed, and beneficially so, and that's just part of the story.

KING: Does any of this concern you, Solicitor General, as a prominent attorney, that we may overstep our bounds in the area of civil protections, civil liberties?

OLSON: I've been watching this very, very carefully, and of course, I'm not directly involved in law enforcement, but I'm close to what General Ashcroft is doing every day.

KING: And you may have to defend some of those (ph).

OLSON: And in fact, we have. The president and the attorney general have asked my office to supervise some of the defense of the terrorism cases.

But I have heard the attorney general and the president speak often about the importance of doing this the proper constitutional American way and to be careful that we don't sacrifice our citizens' liberties and the constitutional rights that we all stand for, that we don't put any of that in jeopardy...

KING: You fear it.

OLSON: Well, I don't fear it. We're all concerned about it, and we're all sensitive to it.

And I wanted to say that I've heard the attorney general inside meetings in the Justice Department emphasize repeatedly that we must do these things by the numbers, according to the Constitution. We protect people's rights. We do what we can to protect people's lives, but we protect their liberties at the same time.

KING: Why do you think you get a bad rap, that people think that that's not in your interests, civil liberties, that enforcement is more important than rights? ASHCROFT: Well, I think it's in some respects, some people fail to understand that security is designed to secure something, and what we are securing are the rights of individuals. So, rather than security being something that challenges rights and that diminishes rights, security makes those rights safe and strong.

KING: So, you don't take away a right to secure...

ASHCROFT: We secure the right. That's what we're doing. We're securing the rights of individuals to be free from the kind of assault...


ASHCROFT: Oh, you know, I think there's debate, there's give- and-take in American politics. It's the stuff of which freedom itself is made, and it's the job of the Justice Department to make sure that people are free to challenge and criticize and wonder and ask.

And the more they ask and challenge, I think more likely all of the people are, in our operation, to have the sensitivity to know that we're in the business of securing freedom, not sacrificing freedom.

KING: We'll pick up on that and a lot more with the attorney general, John Ashcroft, the solicitor general, Ted Olson.

Tomorrow night, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mariah Carey on Thursday, a variety show. Don't go away.


KING: We're back.

General Ashcroft, the recommendation in some quarters of the formation of a domestic intelligence agency, an oversight agency. Favor it?

ASHCROFT: Well, I favored the Department of Homeland Security, which is designed to integrate the activities and to bring together the activities of a variety of agencies to secure the homeland, you know, in a way the president of the United States has undertaken this issue himself for the last 15 months. Every day, he starts the day by making sure that these agencies talk to each other and confer with each other, and brief him. And we need this kind of integration, and that's been the theme...

KING: In one?

ASHCROFT: My own view is to start separating agencies and to have another separate agency to try and develop intelligence and to separate it from law enforcement when we just got the barriers down so it could work -- our intelligence could work closely together with law enforcement.

KING: Homeland security would cover all these agencies? ASHCROFT: Well, it's going to integrate the activities. There's q sort of an umbrella effect and a coordination function for homeland security. There's an analysis part of homeland security that's going to take the intelligence from each agency as necessary, and it's going to make sure that agencies talk appropriately to each other.

But this effort to bring things together to make sure that if one agency has a fact and another agency has another fact, and we harmonize those and make sure that if they're related, we link that up, creating more separated agencies that operate outside of this framework or differently, it's got some real questions that I think need to be answered before you'd want to do that.

KING: You're comfortable with that, Ted?

OLSON: Well, yes. And I think that's it's important we don't -- they are decisions that aren't in my jurisdiction at all.

KING: I know, but you've got an opinion.

OLSON: But I think it is important that...


OLSON: But I'm not so much an expert on the structure of government, but it is important. What we've found here is that the more walls that you create between different agencies and the more different bureaucratic structures, the more you tend to create barriers to the cooperation.

One of the things that General Ashcroft and the president have done is to bring down the barriers that have separated people from doing their job by coordinating together. And a big part of the effort since September 11 has been to produce more cooperation and more coordination, so that people can work in harmony as a team.

ASHCROFT: You know, Ted probably wouldn't tell you about it, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court originally denied our capacity under the Patriot Act to operate with this greater flow of information, and he argued the case in September, which was handed down, I guess it was in late November, where the Corps of Review, the appellate section of the FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, operated.

And they said, Indeed, these walls are down, these barriers are down, we need this kind of ability to cross-fertilize and to link up.

So, he's had a good deal to do with improving the structure, so making sure we don't have separation, but that we've got cooperation and integration in intelligence and law enforcement.

KING: The object, of course, is to prevent a 9/11.

OLSON: Absolutely, and to allow people that are gathering intelligence to talk to the people in the law enforcement field, so that the right hand can talk to the left hand. We had a situation where people were in little boxes, and you couldn't communicate. They couldn't exchange information. No one knows what might have prevented September 11, but everybody is working hard to prevent the next September 11. And in order to do that in the best way we possibly can, we have to have people working in harmony as a team and exchanging information.

KING: Can you say, General, that we might have prevented an attack of some sort this morning that we don't even -- that you may know about that we don't know about?

ASHCROFT: Well, that's what our job is, and that's what we're working to do. And when we...

KING: But you can't tell us that.

ASHCROFT: When we have the new provisions at the borders, the national security entry and exit registration system -- it's called NSEERS. We've implanted that this fall. There have been 200 and some people arrested at the borders or turned back because of our ability to know things that we didn't know before.

So that over and over again, we're doing things that should have the impact of disrupting. We now, for example, have in place what's called the Student Exchange Visitors Information Service -- I think that's what it is -- SEVIS, it's called. And instead of having each college maintain the records independently of what foreign students are in the country and what they're doing, it's maintained centrally, so we can know. And the college has to report if a student drops out or doesn't register.

All of these things together are security for the United States of America.

KING: But as a nation of immigrants, does it concern you, Ted, that we may go sometimes too far, and that people who should get in, you know, if it's a borderline question, they don't get in?

OLSON: We have laws that have been enacted by the representatives of all of us that set forth certain rules, and what we learned in September 11 and the aftermath is that many of those laws had not been enforced. People weren't doing the jobs that our elected representatives...


OLSON: ... or it was too easy to get in. Certain people that were -- once they were inside the United States may have committed crimes and things weren't done to move them back out of the United States, and they should have put people on alert. All of those things are -- that are being done are consistent with laws established by our Congress and regulations established by our courts.

When we do these things in many instances that the attorney general is talking about, we have to have approval from the courts to do certain deportations and do certain other things. So, it is not the executive branch acting unilaterally. We're doing this very, very carefully.

KING: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were just added, I'm told, to the alien registration order. Some question why Saudi and Pakistan weren't on the list before.

ASHCROFT: Well, this is a process, which the Congress has mandated be comprehensive by the year 2005. So, this business of the NSEERS program, the Exit, Entry, Registration System program, the national program, that will cover every nation -- 24 months from now, it's going to cover every one.

We started out based on the state sponsors of terrorism. They were the first ones to go into the system. And then other nations are being added as we ramp up, and it's a matter of a short period of time that the United States is going to be more careful about its borders. We want to know who's here, and we want to know who leaves.

KING: Are we correct in criticizing the FBI for not focusing sufficiently on Saudi Arabia?

ASHCROFT: Well, I don't -- I certainly can't make that judgment. I believe that we need to focus on terrorism. We need to identify the kinds of individuals that are threats to us. With the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, we're doing that. With a variety of other mechanisms, we're doing it.

KING: You're satisfied with the job being done?


KING: Or not.

ASHCROFT: ... we're never satisfied. You know, people ask me what kind of job you want to do. I say, better. We don't ever want to be satisfied with anything. I just noticed Bob Mueller, who started at the FBI a week before 9/11, has been making changes on a moment-by-moment basis to upgrade the FBI.

I changed a lot of things in the FBI rules. It was against the rules of the FBI for someone to surf the Internet, not to look at anybody's e-mail, but just to be on the Internet to find out where the bomb-making sites were, where the sites were that described how to make anthrax -- those kinds of things. I think that FBI ought to be able to go where the public can go, and we changed those rules.

But structurally, the FBI is a brand-new organization and major changes, and it's being upgraded and improved every single day.

KING: We'll be right back with Ted Olson, the solicitor general, and John Ashcroft, the attorney general. Don't go away.


KING: Ted Olson, are you concerned about the Jose Padilla case?

In early December, a federal judge in New York ruled that he must be granted access to an attorney. Why would anyone, anyone -- foreign, domestic -- anyone be denied the right to an attorney?

OLSON: Well, there's some limits on what I can say, because that case is still pending. And the judge -- first of all, let me say that the judge recognized, as other courts have recognized, the status of enemy combatant, an individual who is doing war against the United States.

But think back to World War II. Would you give a right to an attorney to prisoners captured on the battlefield? No.

When -- he courts have recognized even citizens and even people that may be in the United States, if they're engaged in acts of war against the United States, don't have a right to an attorney...

KING: But what is your concern if they had an attorney? So, they have an attorney.

OLSON: Well, it's a very delicate situation. One of the things that the Defense Department is doing and the people that are engaged in conducting this war is interrogating people who are part of the enemy combatant operations, so that they can find out the things that are threats to our citizens. The courts have generally...


KING: ... they don't speak.

OLSON: Pardon me?

KING: A good attorney would say, don't speak.

OLSON: Not only would an attorney say not to speak, but would interfere with the process of the -- the delicate process that takes place between an interrogator and someone being interrogated, someone who has been detained or captured as an enemy combatant. The judge said he wanted to review the process. This is still unfolding with respect to that particular case.

KING: And you may have to try this.

OLSON: And the judge -- well, there may be proceedings in the court of appeals. We're watching it very carefully, and I'm participating in how that matter is presented.

But the judge did recognize, in that particular case, as another judge did in an earlier case, that enemy combatants who may be citizens, even if they're in the United States, may be treated as enemy combatants.

KING: Does it bother you as an attorney, as a governor, senator, attorney general, to deny anyone the right to be protected by law?

ASHCROFT: Well, frankly...

KING: I mean, isn't that what this country is all about? ASHCROFT: Yes. And frankly, for people who are a part of a legal proceeding that's in accordance with the court system of the United States, they all get attorneys. We haven't detained anybody in the immigration setting as a material witness, as a person charged in our -- without attorneys.

The category of individuals that are detained without attorneys are people who are enemy combatants. They're not held by the Justice Department. They're not a part of the judicial system. They're held as a -- they're being detained because they have been combatants against the United States in a wartime situation.

To say to an enemy that if we capture 10,000 of your people on the battlefield, we'll provide attorneys for all of them, or allow attorneys...

KING: Is there a battlefield? Is there a...

ASHCROFT: Well, I think if you talk to the people in New York, if you talk to the people who were at the Pentagon, they'd call those battlefields. And we know that they're not described as battlefields have been historically, but the United States felt the sting of battle in a way that it hasn't for a long time.

KING: This is a new game.

ASHCROFT: It is a new game, and it's different.

But I wanted you to know that there is a difference between people who are being apprehended in the justice system who are provided with the rights that normally attend that, and the people who are being apprehended as unlawful combatants in the war, and they are being provided all of the kinds of rights that you would expect in that setting.

OLSON: Well, I want to add that the people that are conducting this war against the United States and the citizens of the United States wear no uniforms, swearing allegiance to no country, obey no treaties and have sworn and acknowledged that what they want to do is do the most amount of damage to the most amount of individuals without regard to any rules.

The rules that we are following with respect to dealing with enemy combatants have been approved on a couple of occasions by the United States Supreme Court in connection with comparable circumstances. There isn't any war that we've ever been involved in quite like this one, where people are infiltrating the United States in order to -- without wearing uniforms in order to do damage to our citizens. We're following the rules with respect to how those people...

KING: If they are a citizen -- now, this is weird -- but on a battlefield, if you caught 10,000 Germans in World War II, supposing one of them was a citizen.

OLSON: That's right. He would not... KING: And he said, Wait a minute, I'm a citizen of the United States. I came over here, I enlisted in this army, I got caught up in this war, I want an attorney.

OLSON: Well, let me tell you something like that and very close to that happened during World War II. Some people were landed from Germany, soldiers were landed from Germany, one of which -- one or two of which were citizens that came here to bomb...

ASHCROFT: American citizens.

OLSON: ... American citizens or American installations. They were captured. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court upheld a military trial and the execution of those individuals because they were engaged in war against the United States. And that included the citizens...


KING: So, you have no qualms then about dealing with an enemy combatant in this manner?

ASHCROFT: We believe that enemy combatants deserve certain conditions of humanity, and we've been careful to provide that this administration has -- the president has been insistent on it. But we don't believe that an enemy combatant is -- qualifies for all of the safeguards that are included for people who are charged with crimes in our criminal justice system. And so, we've been very careful to provide those...


KING: You might think conservatives and liberals would divide on this, but the arch-conservative, Bob Barr, who was defeated in Congress, he has been a vocal critic of overreaching by the Justice Department. He said that that's not American. How do you react to his...


ASHCROFT: Well, you know, first of all, one of the jobs of the Justice Department is to defend his right to do that and to say that, and we think that it's entirely appropriate for him to voice his concerns. As a matter of fact, we think it's appropriate for people who don't believe that rights are being properly respected to take those cases to court. And when those cases had been taken to court time after time, and under the careful, complete and thorough review of the judicial system, the overwhelming majority, almost unanimous situation is that the conclusion of the courts has been that the cases are being properly handled.

OLSON: We've been very careful about that, Larry. And former Congressman Barr's criticism notwithstanding, all of these cases and all of these situations have been looked at and are being looked at by the courts, so that review process is taking place. And as the attorney general said, so far, the courts have approved the things that the administration has been carefully doing.

KING: We'll be right back with the solicitor general and the attorney general. Tomorrow night, the secretary of defense. Don't go away.


KING: Now, I want to get this right. I'm told -- we're back with the solicitor general and the attorney general --- that the Patriot Act, which you had a big part in getting through, right?

OLSON: Well, no, I had a very small part in getting it through.

KING: You...


OLSON: There were many people who worked on it.

KING: It makes it easier for the FBI to obtain search warrants for library records and such a search warrant comes with the judicial order that the record keeper cannot tell anyone about providing the information to authorities under penalty of possible prosecution. And that means that a librarian has to tell you if someone checked out a book and they can't tell that someone that they told you.

OLSON: Well, the Patriot Act is fairly explicit with respect to judicial approval of warrants under appropriate circumstances, and the circumstances -- and General Ashcroft knows more about this part of it, because he was more involved than I was in the development of the statute. But these are judicially approved circumstances, where evidence is gathered.

KING: Why would you care about what book a person checks out?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me just go back to what the solicitor general has said. Ted reiterates that this is supervised by a special court of judges, who grant the right to conduct these investigations. And this is done pursuant to the law. And in some cases, we seek to make investigations where it's not helpful if all of the information about the investigation is known in a public way. That's taken into account.

This frame of investigation has been carefully scrubbed (ph), not only by the judges who supervise it, but by the court of review that supervises the supervising judges. And this is a safeguarded area.

The main effect of the Patriot Act didn't have to do with things like that. It had to do with the fact that we needed to be able to upgrade technology and surveillance from what had been analog technology from the old kind of telephones to the digital technology of the new ones, and to be able to follow a person, to monitor the conversations of a person and not just of a specific phone.

In the old days when an individual used a specific phone in his house, that's the only phone he used. If you wanted to monitor that person, you could get an order for that phone. But now, we find people buying cell phones and throw-away phones, and we needed an order that covered the person rather than having to go back to court every time we get a new phone. And that's basically -- that was the No. 1 advantage of the Patriot Act.

KING: It's not big brother.

OLSON: It's far from it. Every step of the process, every step that we've taken with the Patriot Act involved the Congress of the United States, the careful development of hearings and careful steps, and steps -- the warrants that we obtained under many of these circumstances require approval by the attorney general or someone (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you can go to a judge. So, we have all three branches of government involved in the process.

KING: Sometimes in times of peril -- we put Japanese citizens into camps in World War II. Congress passed that. The Supreme Court signed off on it. That was wrong.

OLSON: Well, yes, there is no question that that was wrong. But nothing like that has remotely happened under these circumstances, and what we are doing here has been very, very careful. No one has been put away under circumstances like that. As Attorney General Ashcroft indicates that legal proceedings are being brought. There's a right to counsel. There's a right to review...

ASHCROFT: I just want to reiterate that we have people held -- some people with the material witness warrants means that a federal judge has said this person knows things that could be very important to a case. And the judge supervises their detention. We've charged individuals of immigration violations that are violations of the law. We've charged people with violations of the United States code.

And those are the kinds of people that we've detained, and they are subject to the scrutiny and supervision of the court system.

KING: Gentlemen, what you're saying tonight is, this is a war, right? Maybe a lot of the public is not convinced of that yet, and it's not a conventional war. There's no country raiding and invading another country. It's difficult to comprehend then, that we have to maybe give up some things...


KING: ... to get over things. But you're saying...

ASHCROFT: I'll give you a B plus on that essay, and that is, we are in a war.

KING: That's right.

ASHCROFT: And we have to do things -- we have to do things differently than we did before. You know, the saying is, if you don't want to get the same result, you've got to change your behavior. My grandfather said, "I sawed this board off three times, and it's still too short." Well, of course it's too short, you keep sawing it off. We had to change some things. Things we did differently were not things that we offended the Constitution in doing.

We, for instance, are beginning to ask people who have been ordered deported to leave the country. And we basically found 1,000 people who had deportation orders before that they were ignoring that we ware throwing them out. Well, they just went back into the country and ignored the order.

Now, this is not an injustice to say to someone who's been through the entire system, who's been adjudicated as a person who should be deported, who's been ordered to be deported, and then decides to walk out into the streets of the country and get lost. When we find them to deport them, that's not an injustice. It's an injustice if we fail to carry out the adjudicated order that comes from the justice system.

KING: What current state are we under?

ASHCROFT: Well, we're under an elevated state of alert. That's sort of a mid-point that we need to be alert. We are not...

KING: What do we do with that?

ASHCROFT: Well, we ask for people to have the kind of alertness that would help them detect and be alert to a shoe bomber...


KING: ... people you see?

ASHCROFT: Well, be alert. If someone is doing something illegal, if you see someone, for instance, photographing and casing the entrance to a nuclear power generation station that looks like they might be planning to penetrate that and disrupt that activity, yes, call the FBI.

KING: So, we are all citizen soldiers.

OLSON: Well, we're all citizens, and we're all interested in protecting not only ourselves, but our fellow citizens and our country. We are aware of the fact, notwithstanding that everything that everyone is doing that we are under a threat, and that there are people out there. They have committed bombings all over the world now, we know, the same group of people generally are taking responsibility for bringing terrible devastation to people everywhere, and they would like to do it in this country.

So, we ask the citizens to be sensitive, to be concerned, to participate with us, and we've been very -- we're very proud of the fact that American citizens have pitched in and helped out and have been concerned.

KING: We'll be back with more -- don't go away.


KING: We're back with the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, the solicitor general, Ted Olson.

We don't know if this -- your records show before where these two officers were on together?

OLSON: Well, we were in Congress together when the Patriot Act was...

KING: No, I mean on television.

OLSON: No, I don't -- I don't know.


OLSON: I don't know.

ASHCROFT: I think this is a first.

KING: All right, I think it is.

Let's cover some other bases. Would you consider going on to the Supreme Court? You've been in the hat room where...

OLSON: No, no, no. I don't even think of such things. I have...

KING: Would you take it?

OLSON: I don't even think about it, Larry.


OLSON: All I think about is the job that I'm doing now, which is to represent the United States in the Supreme Court. I think that's a very, very important job. I'm very lucky to have it. It's a job that I enjoy doing, and I think it's an important job. And that's a strong opinion of mine.

ASHCROFT: I'll tell you what, there's no question in my mind that he's one of the finest judicial minds. And not just his administration, but generally the solicitor general of the United States is so influential on the court that sometimes...

KING: There's been some pretty good ones.

ASHCROFT: ... sometimes people call him the 10th Justice. It's important that we have this kind of quality, and you read his record...

KING: Thurgood Marshall was a solicitor general.

OLSON: Thurgood Marshall, but General Ashcroft is true, sometimes refer to the solicitor general as the 10th Justice, but none of the nine Justices have said that.

ASHCROFT: Yes. That's an important distinction to make, too.

KING: Concerning the anthrax investigation, I want to get this right. There is a search going on even as we speak in a pond in Frederick, Maryland, where a source has told the FBI that Steven Hatfill, who John Ashcroft has called "a person of interest," may have dumped something.

Is this going to clear him? What can you tell us about the latest on Mr. Hatfill? What's going on in Maryland?

ASHCROFT: Well, I can tell you that the FBI and federal authorities continue to be very concerned about the anthrax investigation to the extent that it is still a matter of high priority. And that we will not rest until we have this matter completely solved.

KING: Is Hatfill still a person of interest?

ASHCROFT: I'm not going to make anymore comments about the investigation in particular, except to say that it is not something the intensity of which has waned. It's something we're still after, still working hard to pursue.

KING: Do you expect arrests in the anthrax investigation? People will be charged with having done this act?

ASHCROFT: That is our intent. We want to continue this investigation to a point at which we have assembled the kind of evidence that we believe provides the basis for prosecution.

KING: Any reason to think why it stopped?

ASHCROFT: Well, the investigation has never stopped.

KING: No, the anthrax letters have stopped.

ASHCROFT: Oh, I think there are thousands of reasons that one could think about in that respect. But for me to go to those reasons in specific would probably compromise what I don't want to compromise and say.

KING: You knew President Bush fairly well, did you not, before he became president? But you aren't intimate.

ASHCROFT: That's correct.

KING: What about him as president has surprised you?


KING: I mean, or couldn't have been expected.

ASHCROFT: He has risen to this responsibility with a kind of certainty and confidence and determination and persistence.

I've seen a thousand leaders. I've been around lots of them. I spent eight years as a governor, and eight years before as state attorney general. I spent time in the United States Senate. And it's not uncommon for people to be what I would call "crisis-focused." At the time of the most difficult time of the crisis, they're focused, but for them to lose focus.

President Bush said we were in a war, and that it would be a long war, and that we would stay with it and that we would not relent and that we would not give up and we would pursue these individuals until they were brought to justice or we brought justice to them.

I have the privilege of watching this president on a daily basis. And he has never indicated one iota's slowdown. He is totally focused.

KING: Never distracted?

ASHCROFT: I have -- you know, I've come to a new understanding of what I believe leadership is. There's a real element of genius in leadership, and he certainly has that. But there's an element of clarity in leadership. When you make clear what you're doing, and you stay with it, it's unwavering. It's not something that says on Tuesday, oh, I wonder if we should reverse field. It has -- pardon the athletic analogy -- but it runs north and south. It doesn't run for the sideline; it runs for the goal line. And perhaps one of the most...

KING: And has that -- the degree of it surprised you?

ASHCROFT: Well, perhaps one of the most inspiring things that I've ever seen in my life in public leadership has been the way in which this president has the ability to do identify noble objectives and goals and never run for the sideline.

A lot of people want to be on the sideline cheering. It's the real leadership that goes for the goal line. And I have to say, I'm enthusiastic about this, because it's an inspiration to me.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with John Ashcroft and Ted Olson to cover some other bases -- don't go away.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with the attorney general and the solicitor general. We haven't looked up the records, but we think this is a first appearing together. John Ashcroft recently appeared somewhere else. We want to show you a little bit of that appearance -- watch.


ASHCROFT: Yes, McCartney's 60 this year. I'm 60 this year. "Can't Buy Me Love."


KING: Whoa! On "Letterman" yet. That's where you'll go if you blow this whole job.

ASHCROFT: Oh, yes, yes. Don't -- people have told me over and over, don't quit your day job, John.

KING: No, but you have fun doing that.

ASHCROFT: Oh, it's so much fun. Shaffer is a great guy. And you know, I said to him, now, you're going to have to cover my back side on this. He said, "John, you start playing, we'll cover your back side, your front side, your right side and your left side." They're good. That's a great band.

KING: A couple of other things. Last week, a Prince William County judge denied a motion to allow cameras for the trial of John Allen Muhammad. What do you think of cameras in the court, Ted Olson?

OLSON: Well, I think that under certain circumstances, they're a good idea, and under some circumstances, they are not a good idea.

KING: What do you think about the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

OLSON: I'm not going to comment on that.

KING: He's going to defend himself.

OLSON: I think it's not wise to talk about that.

KING: Do you have any opinions?

ASHCROFT: No, I think...

KING: You're going to...


ASHCROFT: That is right. Yes. The judge had to make a decision, and the judge had the facts before him about how the decision was to be -- how the situation would unfold. And I'm not going to -- from 1,000 miles away, I'll second guess a referee from the top row of the coliseum, but I won't second guess a judge from counties away.

KING: Iraq, I know it's not directly in your bailiwick.

ASHCROFT: Well, every American is concerned about...

KING: So I'm asking you as an American.

ASHCROFT: A nation that maintains and not only the aspiration but the capacity to develop and perhaps -- and has developed and has implemented weapons of mass destruction. There are hundreds of instances where Iraq has actually used evil chemicals on its own citizens. And the development not only of weaponry, which obviously can and has been turned on its own citizens, but a delivery capacity.

You know, it's important -- if you have a weapon system, that's one thing. But if you have the ability to deliver it to be a threat to the world community, that's another thing. Let me just add one more thing about this. The world community understands this. The United Nations has acted over and over and over again, and very recently dramatically acted at the request of President Bush so that the world community understands this threat and doesn't want this threat to persist.

KING: Governor Ann Richards was on the program Monday night. She's, as you know, a frequent critic of the administration. But she said before they go to war, they're going to have to show -- we're going to have to show -- we, the United States -- proof; not just statements, proof. Do you agree with that?

ASHCROFT: Well, I believe the president has the requisite understanding and the requisite authority. You know, the Clinton administration, in 1998, said that if there weren't things done in Iraq in the next couple of years and specified the kind of activity, that they had to be dealt with, whether we did it basically by ourselves or could mobilize the world to do it.

This isn't an issue that, once fully understood, divides very many people. This is an issue that sees this president simply having the courage to state that we will do what we ought to do and what the world community has agreed needs to be done.

KING: Can you comment on the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, next year?

OLSON: No. I think...

KING: Probably the solicitor general might be involved in that.

OLSON: We would not be involved in that at all. Experienced prosecutors are handing that case. And we would be involved only if there was something that went to an appellate court, or if we were asked what our view would be if certain rulings were made, and whether we'd be interested in taking an appeal. Otherwise we let the experienced people handle that level of case.

KING: You're going to have to argue for the campaign finance law which you have argued -- which you disagree with.

OLSON: No, I've never said a thing about it.


KING: The presumption is that, as a good Republican, you have disagreed.

Well, put it this way: Lawyers have to do this. Are you just as strong when you are arguing a matter you may not personally agree with?

OLSON: I am a lawyer. I represent the administration. And our responsibility is faithfully to execute the laws of the United States. That means to go into the United States Supreme Court and put on the best case we possibly can. KING: And you have to defend any laws you disagree with.

ASHCROFT: Absolutely.

KING: You can't agree with every law in the book.

ASHCROFT: And people who say that they agree with every part of every enactment, first of all, couldn't possibly have read them and, secondly, are probably lying too much.

But the job and responsibility of those of us that believe in the rule of law is that when something has the weight of law, passed by the Congress, signed by the president, it's our duty to defend it.

And that's the clear understanding of the Justice Department. And it is clearly what we will do, have done and will continue to do.

KING: What surprised you most about your job?

OLSON: The quality of the people that work in the Justice Department. I knew that they were good, but I had a..

KING: Under any administration?

OLSON: Under any administration, the career people. I knew they were good, but I had no idea how committed and dedicated and outstanding they were.

I watched -- our office handled 65 arguments in the Supreme Court last year. I went and watched every argument that the lawyers from the Justice Department made, and I could not have been more proud or thrilled to be a part of them. They are so good.

KING: I know you invited Janet Reno to the Justice Department after you came in, right, to spend a...


KING: ... part of the day with you, but you been in touch with her at all?

ASHCROFT: I haven't been in regular touch with her. But I felt that there were things she might be able to tell me that would help me do a better job.

KING: Did she help you?

ASHCROFT: Sure, she did. And she got involved in a political campaign sometime after that. But she signaled to me in good faith things that she thought would be a good place for me to focus some attention. And I was grateful to her for that.

KING: We only have less than a minute. Are you worried about a terrorist attack?

ASHCROFT: Absolutely. This is a matter of great concern to me. It's something that motivates me every day. I want the Justice Department to be motivated. Prevention is the most important responsibility we have.

KING: Thank you, Ted. It's always great seeing you.

ASHCROFT: Larry, it's good to be with you.

KING: The attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft. The solicitor general, Ted Olson.

Next is "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown. We'll see you tomorrow night with Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. Thanks for joining us. From Washington, good night.


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