A 30-second spot set to run in eight local cable and broadcast markets suggests that Attorney General John Ashcroft has exceeded his constitutional powers.
"Look what John Ashcroft is doing to our Constitution," says the spot, from Zimmerman & Markman, New York. "He's seized powers for the Bush administration no president should ever have."
Right to investigate
The ad continues: "The right to investigate you for what you say, to intrude on your privacy, to hold you in jail without charging you with a crime. John Ashcroft. He's supposed to defend the Constitution, not rewrite it."
The spot features words from the Constitution being crossed out and replaced while the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights -- which bars unreasonable searches and seizures -- is edited out of the document.
The commercial kicks off a six-month, $1 million ad campaign that is part of a broader $3.5 million effort the ACLU has planned over the next 18 months. The ACLU said the spot is being launched today in connection with the one-year anniversary of congressional passage of the USA Patriot Act, which the group feels went too far in taking away civil liberties.
Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, said he hasn't seen the ads but defended Mr. Ashcroft.
'Within statutory authority'
"Everything we have done in the war on terrorism has been well within the bounds of the Constitution and the statutory authority provided by the Congress," he said.
"The Patriot Act was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of both chambers of Congress, and everything else has been done in the open to public scrutiny. As attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft has urged we think outside the box but he has admonished us to never think outside the Constitution. We reject the argument that any civil liberties infringed upon and challenge anyone to name a specific liberty that has been restricted."
Mr. Corallo said he was not surprised at the criticism. "The beauty of this country is they are entitled to their opinion, and this attorney general will defend their right to criticism," he said.