Good morning and welcome.
This morning, on the eve of Thanksgiving celebrations around dinner tables across America, we gather to celebrate the service of John Ashcroft and to say thank you for a job well done as our Attorney General during one of the most historic and difficult periods in our nation’s history.
We are joined today by many friends and alumni of the Department of Justice, as well as many special guests – Justice Clarence Thomas, Senator Kit Bond, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, thank you for being here – and I want to welcome one and all – whether this is your first time in the Great Hall or a return to once-familiar territory.
I also want to offer a special welcome to John’s wife, Janet Ashcroft. Wonderful to see you here today, Janet.
Our other special guest is the artist for General Ashcroft’s portrait: John Howard Sanden. I’d like to welcome John and his wife, Elizabeth, to the Department.
You know, several members of the media have commented on the different styles between John and me. And I suppose that’s true. For example, John likes blue drapes…I happen to like a more open look.
General Ashcroft had an open door policy with the press. Given John’s high regard for reporters and his close association with both American and foreign journalists, it is not surprising that a large number of members of the media are here for today’s hanging.
Recently, I was in Europe in the offices of one of my law enforcement counterparts. As I stood admiring some portraits of former ministers, my host disclosed that he was an artist – a political cartoonist – and that he could draw a self-portrait when he left government, thus saving the taxpayers and his country a few Euros.
I found the image of John Ashcroft sitting in front of a mirror, sketching himself with crayons and watercolors to be interesting. Although we know John has great respect for the taxpayer’s money, I think we also appreciate that he didn’t try to paint his portrait himself especially given the remarkable talents of Mr. Sanden.
Continuing on with our program please rise and join me in the presentation of the colors and the playing of our National Anthem.
President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
When we think of the man in the arena striving valiantly with great enthusiasm in a worthy cause, it is hard not to think of John Ashcroft. In just the short time that I have known him, John has proven again and again his courage and his strength of character.
We will soon unveil a portrait of not just an Attorney General, but of a consummate statesman. Once-governor, once-senator – John Ashcroft’s record of public service is both long and deep. In each of his public roles, he worked tirelessly for the good of the people he served.
As the wonderful patriotic hymn says of America’s heroes, I think we can say of John Ashcroft – “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”
In both his state capital and his Nation’s capital, John has been a consistent, modest and moral leader.
Here at the Justice Department, John led ably after September 11th – a time that will doubtless stand out in history as one of the most challenging times for our nation, when an unthinkable, monstrous criminal act was also an act of war. From my vantage point at the White House, I saw John step up as a warrior for America. A few questioned his approach, but I think his willingness to take the fight to the enemy reassured the American people during those darkest days that this government would not back down in the face of adversity, but would take bold steps to protect them.
Like so many of his law enforcement colleagues, John should know that he deserves a substantial portion of the credit for the fact that America has not been attacked in more than five years. Thanks to his cool head and insightful perspective, I believe he will be remembered as being the right man at the right time for this incredibly complex and challenging job.
John Ashcroft loves his country, and believes deeply in the rule of law and that “thy liberty” is found in law. He knows that one preserves and protects the other, and his public service is a record of that fact.
It is right and fitting that, from this day forward, John Ashcroft’s portrait will hang in the Department of Justice. Because in his public life, John Ashcroft has always stood for justice… everywhere that he stood.
Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Thank you, John, and thank you Mr. Sanden. We are all honored to have been part of this special ceremony.
I encourage all of you – colleagues, friends and family members – to join us on the 5th floor for refreshments and a chance to take a closer look at this wonderful piece of art.
It has been a pleasure to host you at the Department of Justice. Thank you all for coming.