Ashcroft Defends No-Bid Contract

The relationship between onetime government officials and their former agencies is always a topic of public scrutiny. But the recent disclosure that a top federal prosecutor in New Jersey awarded former Attorney General John Ashcroft a no-bid contract worth upwards of $28 million to monitor compliance in a company settling criminal charges has generated not just questions but an internal DOJ inquiry as well.

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The relationship between onetime government officials and their former agencies is always a topic of public scrutiny. But the recent disclosure that a top federal prosecutor in New Jersey awarded former Attorney General John Ashcroft a no-bid contract worth upwards of $28 million to monitor compliance in a company settling criminal charges has generated not just questions but an internal DOJ inquiry as well.

Yet the probe seems have done little to dampen the spirits of Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator who now runs the Ashcroft Group, a lobbying and consulting firm. During a speech today at an American Bar Association conference on homeland security in Washington, Ashcroft warmed the audience of more than 200 lawyers with lighthearted humor ("You'll notice that people with grandiose egos will quote themselves frequently," he said before quoting himself again) as well as more serious talk of national security. ("I don't believe in balancing freedom and security," he said. "It's about enriching my freedom with security.")

U.S. News caught up with Ashcroft after the talk and asked whether he thought there was any favoritism involved in the contract award. Ashcroft replied, "I think it was on the basis of merit." He explained further that the contract should be judged by the work he and his associates do.

"The proof will be in the pudding," he said.

— Emma Schwartz