The Center for American Progress released these talking points for the upcoming testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the marquee witness before the 9/11 panel today.
CAP writes: Attorney General John Ashcroft should expect heavy grilling from the 9/11 Commission today given his track record or lack thereof on counterterrorism. Draft sections of the Commission's report currently in circulation chastise Ashcroft as "largely uninterested in counterterrorism issues before Sept. 11 despite intelligence warnings that summer that Al Qaeda was planning a large, perhaps catastrophic, terrorist attack," according to the New York Times.
-- Counterterrorism was nowhere to be seen on Ashcroft's list of top priorities for the Justice Department. Ashcroft's May 2001 "budget goals memo" outlined the Attorney General's top seven priorities. Counterterrorism did not appear anywhere on the list. After 9/11, Ashcroft released a revised strategic goals memo in November 2001 that inserted a new priority at the top of the list -- "Protect America Against the Threat of Terrorism."
-- Attorney General Ashcroft specifically cut counterterrorism spending prior to 9/11. Justice Department documents released by American Progress reveal that in August 2001, the FBI specifically requested additional resources to bolster counterterrorism resources. In response, Ashcroft actually cut counterterrorism funding in critical areas including equipment grants, border control, and the National Domestic Preparedness Office. Our new analysis reveals the 2002 counterintelligence budget proposed by Ashcroft cut counterintelligence spending by more than $476 million a 23 percent decline from 2001 funding levels.
-- The Justice Department should release any information it has about why the Attorney General suddenly stopped flying commercial aircraft in the months prior to 9/11. In the summer of 2001, Ashcroft started flying on the FBI's Gulf Stream 5 at a cost to taxpayers of $1,600 an hour because of an undisclosed threat assessment. The Justice Department now maintains that it was a "nonspecific threat against Ashcroft's life," -- a fact that could be confirmed with the full release of the FBI's threat assessment.