Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

Similarly, Myron Marlin, Reno's last spokesman, said the only words that keep coming to his mind are "gentle intellectual giant." He explained that Sutin was so capable and intelligent, yet always a calming force. And former top aide Tom Perelli said he had been wracking his memory for anecdotes, but "the hardest and easiest moments were about the same, because he was so unflappable." He recalled that when Sutin left for Grundy it was partly for a change of pace, but really it demonstrated his continuing commitment to public service.

Sutin's wife, Margaret Lawton, also taught at Appalachian. They had two children: a boy, Henry, aged 4, who had been adopted in Russia, and a girl, Clara Li, 15 months, who — especially poignantly — had less than a month ago been adopted in China.

Watch What You Ask For

Earlier this week several reporters were grumbling that we had not seen much of Attorney General John Ashcroft since the new year; or if we saw him, it was at photo ops where there is little or no chance of asking a question.

Suddenly all that changed: on Tuesday, Jan. 15, we had the announcement of charges against American al Qaeda John Walker Lindh; on Wednesday, Jan. 16, the indictment of shoe-bomb suspect Richard Reid; and Thursday, Jan. 17, the release of photos and video of five suspected al Qaeda members.

And of course in the midst of all this we have had to contend with numerous Enron/Andersen-related questions. Not to mention all the usual "normal news." We are now begging for a respite!

On Not Crying Wolf

Ashcroft displayed a certain sensitivity on Wednesday to the criticism from many directed at the highly vague alerts that have been issued in recent months. (In fact, there have only been three, but most people believe there have been more.)

But in announcing the charges against Reid he strongly emphasized the fact that the passengers and crew on that airplane had been alert, had responded to the threat, and thus had averted another real tragedy. FBI Director Robert Mueller echoed the idea that their "courage and quick thinking" had been a "decisive factor in the outcome."

But perhaps to underscore their sensitivity to the criticism, Ashcroft indicated awareness of the jokes about the constant calls to maintain a high state of alert: "And, you know, there was a time when people thought ... it was funny that we asked for people to be alert. And certainly if we'd have put out an alert saying, 'Watch out for people with exploding shoes,' we would have been laughed out of town."

Beverley Lumpkin has covered the Justice Department for 16 years for ABCNEWS. Halls of Justice appears every Saturday.

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