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Former Attorney General John Ashcroft On Special Counsel In Russia Probe


The Justice Department announced this evening that it is naming former FBI Director Robert Mueller to be special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible ties to the Trump campaign. President Trump released a statement tonight saying, in part, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know. There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. Robert Mueller led the FBI from 2001 until 2013.

One person who worked closely with him during that time was former Attorney General John Ashcroft. We reached Ashcroft by phone a little while ago, and I asked him first for his reaction to the news.

JOHN ASHCROFT: Well, I don't know a person more dedicated to the concept and ideal of justice. He is a person who has invested his life largely in pursuing law enforcement and the administration of justice. He served both for - as a U.S. attorney, I think, in Boston for the Reagan administration and then in the San Francisco area for the Clinton administration. He was a colleague of mine in the Justice Department. He was the deputy attorney general prior to being appointed the director of the FBI.

So I would literally say that doing justice, an understanding of law enforcement, even-handedness, honesty, fairness - I called him square-jaw McGraw because he was - he was just - he - one time, after he had been U.S. attorney in these various settings, I think, went into private practice and was eager to get back into the public sector of law enforcement. It's just - it's part of his DNA.

He's a very, very hardworking - I never found him to be duplicitous, always gave his very best. Can't say that he was never mistaken - I don't think anybody can be ever unmistaken. But he was - he is a person of very good character, and a person of hard work and industry - and substantially insightful, especially given the extent of his experience.

SHAPIRO: How does he tend to approach issues as large, complicated and politically charged as this Russia investigation has the potential to be?

ASHCROFT: Well, circumstances reveal character. They don't determine character. And so his character is in place long before the circumstances get complex or the situation gets sticky or difficult. Bob's going to be the same. He's going to be devoted to law enforcement and justice. He understands those kinds of objectives, having had to make very sensitive decisions in two significant districts for the United States as the U.S. attorney.

And, of course, he made complex and difficult decisions as the deputy attorney general in 2001. So he's not unaccustomed to complexity. But complexity doesn't change the nature of him in any respect. Bob Mueller is a person of character and insight, industry, integrity. Those are the words that I think of with Bob. And I've observed him (laughter) for well over a decade, and I haven't found him varying from those principles.

SHAPIRO: Is he willing to make decisions that could be politically unpopular?

ASHCROFT: You know, he's not directed by politics. Bob is the kind of guy who knows how to call balls and strikes. And he does it based on where the ball is over the plate or not over the plate. He doesn't base it on the amount of screaming or the amount of fan involvement in the game, so to speak. The fact that some are playing politics does not mean that he'll cease being law enforcement and that he would somehow move into the arena of politics.

That's not his arena. His arena is law enforcement in very responsible positions. And I've never known him to be in the position of saying, well, politics would change that. And frankly, the barking dogs or the clamor of politics won't affect what he does.

SHAPIRO: Former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Thank you very much for joining us.

ASHCROFT: Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.