James Comey’s startling testimony last week stunned much of the political world, but for many of us on the left, there was one point that was pa
May 20, 2007

James Comey’s startling testimony last week stunned much of the political world, but for many of us on the left, there was one point that was particularly hard to digest: in this dramatic tale, John Ashcroft was (gulp) something of a hero.

Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt reported yesterday that the revelations are leading some observers to reconsider the former Attorney General in a new light.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised his “fidelity to the rule of law.” The Wonkette Web site posted the headline: “Ashcroft Takes Heroic Stand.” Under a similar headline, “John Ashcroft, American Hero,” Andrew Sullivan expressed astonishment on his Atlantic magazine blog that “John Ashcroft was way too moderate for these people. John Ashcroft.” […]

“He was a voice for moderation on a wide range of issues that he never got credit for because he did it the right way, behind the scenes,” said another former official who asked not to be named. “On many, many issues the administration has gotten itself in trouble on, if they had listened to his advice, they would have been better off.”

Let’s not go overboard here. This is, after all, the same Ashcroft who relentlessly pushed some of the most dangerous provisions of the Patriot Act, endorsed torture, made poor choices, showed bizarre priorities, suffered crushing defeats at the Supreme Court, issued highly dubious terrorist threat warnings, fought with Congress over documents to which lawmakers were legally entitled, and may have even fibbed in his testimony to the 9/11 Commission. And that’s not even including the “Spirit of Justice” incident.

Confronted by Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales over warrantless surveillance, Ashcroft did the right thing and defended the rule of law. But I’d probably hold off on sending him an ACLU membership application.

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