Ashcroft delivers parting shot to foes on sentencing, Patriot Act
From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a stinging parting shot at administration critics, Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday warned of serious threats to public safety and security if Congress fails to restore stiff sentencing guidelines and does not renew portions of the Patriot Act.
In his final hours in office, Ashcroft delivered the hard-hitting remarks notable as much for his characteristic stark language as for his uncompromising message.
He was especially blunt in his view of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that dealt a blow to federal sentencing guidelines.
"Last month's Supreme Court ruling that federal judges are not bound by sentencing guidelines is a retreat from justice that may put the public's safety in jeopardy," Ashcroft declared. "Which of our daughters, wives and husbands -- are we willing to sacrifice to return to revolving door justice."
Ashcroft demanded Congress "reinstitute tough sentences and certain justice for criminals".
The attorney general issued equally dire predictions if Congress allows provisions of the Patriot Act to expire later this year. The Justice Department points to the Patriot Act as providing key tools in the war on terrorism.
Ashcroft credited tough prosecution and long sentences for the continuing decline in the rate of violent crime in the United States. "Criminals can't commit crimes from behind prison walls," he said.
Ashcroft declined to identify by name foes he termed "cynics and defeatists," but provoked laughter when he criticized the New York Times for its reaction to declining crime rates.
"The New York Times annually sums up this resistance to reality when it runs a story wondering with violent crime at an all-time low why so many people are in prison," he said.
Ashcroft's final speech was loudly applauded by the audience in the auditorium of the staunchly conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Ashcroft was introduced by the organization's chief legal strategist, former Attorney General Ed Meese, as a man who "served with dignity, integrity and excellence."
Ashcroft noted that Tuesday marks the fourth anniversary of his swearing in as the nation's chief law enforcement official.
He said his resignation will be effective the moment his designated successor, Alberto Gonzales, is confirmed by the Senate, which could come Thursday.