Pubdate: Thu, 08 Feb 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: David A. Vise and Dan Eggen


Attorney General John D. Ashcroft outlined his top priorities to senior
staffers yesterday, telling them that reducing gun violence, opposing
teen drug use and battling discrimination against women and minorities
in housing and voting will be his key early goals, a senior Justice
Department official said.

Ashcroft -- whose appointment sparked fierce, partisan debate in the
Senate over his past stands on numerous social issues -- also has begun
"an aggressive effort to reach out to Democrats" as well as holding
customary meetings with members of his own party, said Deputy Chief of
Staff David Israelite.

Ashcroft will have lunch today with former attorney general Janet Reno
and has invited the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate and
House Judiciary committees to meet with him soon.

The release of Ashcroft's agenda, and his first public remarks on CNN's
"Larry King Live" last night, appeared to be aimed, in part, at
conveying the message that Ashcroft will carry out his duties in a fair
and even-handed manner after sharp criticism during his Senate

Israelite said Ashcroft wants to make Project Exile -- a federal-local
law enforcement partnership credited with reducing gun crime in Richmond
- -- one of several models that can be replicated across the country. The
program includes mandatory five-year minimum sentences for certain
offenses committed while carrying a gun.

"Our number one priority will be to reduce the incidence of gun
violence," Israelite said. "One of the things that has made Project
Exile work is the strict enforcement of violations of laws, and making
gun prosecutions a priority in law enforcement."

But Ashcroft's promises are sure to provoke doubts among lawmakers and
activists who just last week were sharply criticizing his long-standing
opposition to new gun controls, past Missouri desegregation plans and

Senate Democrats expressed skepticism that Ashcroft could be trusted to
protect the interests of women and minorities, accusing him of
misrepresenting his true positions to gain public support and win
confirmation. The Senate ultimately confirmed Ashcroft by a 58 to 42

Ashcroft was criticized for opposing voluntary school desegregation
plans in St. Louis and Kansas City while he served as Missouri's
attorney general and governor. He also drew angry protests from groups
that opposed his staunch opposition to abortion and feared he would not
prevent protesters from illegally blocking access to abortion clinics.

"Actions speak louder than words," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said
as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm the former senator
from Missouri. "His 30-year record of intense opposition on so many
critical issues involving civil rights, women's rights, gun control and
[judicial] nominations speak volumes and demonstrate, clearly and
convincingly, that he is the wrong person to be attorney general of the
United States."

As part of his anti-violence initiative, Ashcroft also will support some
new laws, including legislation that would make it illegal for people
convicted of gun crimes as juveniles to ever own a gun.

Israelite said Ashcroft will vigorously enforce civil rights laws and
will launch special programs aimed at fighting violence against women,
racial profiling, and discrimination against women and minorities in
housing and voting.

Israelite also promised a renewed focus on reducing drug use among
teenagers. He said drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds has increased in
recent years and that marijuana use among eighth-graders and
10th-graders also has risen.

President Bush has said he wants to create a national Parents Drug Corps
by providing $25 million to nonprofit organizations to educate and train
parents in drug prevention.

"We think it is important that the effort receive the proper attention
and moral leadership," Israelite said.
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