My question, where are the women, elicited laughter at the press conference and caused one reporter, a bachelor, to repeat the query incessantly for the rest of the day.
Ashcroft's response was fairly lengthy, noting how drawn-out the background process can be but assuring us that women would play a "significant" role at Justice.
Afterwards, I was taken aside by one of his aides and told that they have repeatedly been raising this point with the White House and warning it could spell trouble if they don't come up with some women for top jobs.
FBI Post-Hanssen Review
Former Director of both the CIA & FBI William Webster cannot get started with his review of FBI procedures in the wake of the revelations about accused spy Robert Hanssen until he gets a letter from Ashcroft setting forth his mandate.
A source close to Webster said it would be "foolish, silly and wasteful" to try to begin without prior agreement on what should be covered.
He says the job needs to be put into focus, given dimensions, and be brought "out of the amorphous and into the finite realm." They have to make sure there are no limitations or barriers on what they can do and where they can go.
There must also be the standard language about Freeh making the full resources of the Bureau available to assist. (However, Webster will likely use IRS agents and Postal Service inspectors to avoid the specter of the FBI investigating itself.)
But, for now there they sit, twiddling their thumbs, day after day, waiting for the letter that never comes.
This source was not concerned about interim steps being ordered by Freeh to begin some random polygraphing of agents in particularly sensitive positions, and to put checks on agents' ability to run their own names or addresses through Bureau indices.
He says nothing that begins now would interfere with the implementation of any recommendations Webster might ultimately make; there's nothing "we won't be able to either track or undo," he said.
Death Penalty Discomfort
I wrote two weeks ago about some officials' discomfort that Ashcroft had not yet met with the death penalty review committee or made any decisions on the committee's recommendations whether federal prosecutors should be given permission to seek the death penalty in specific cases.
He has still not met with the committee, although he has decided several cases.
One official is still worried that perhaps the Attorney General is not considering the cases himself but is merely rubber-stamping decisions being made in the Deputy Attorney General's office. (I've previously written that many believe the entire department is still being run from the Deputy's office by the Deputy's supposed subordinate, former transition chief Paul McNulty.)
The reason it could be troubling is that by statute the Attorney General alone must maKe death penalty decisions.
But a top aide to Ashcroft told me that there is no particular significance in the fact that the Attorney General has not met with the committee.
He said the procedure in place "appears to have been complicated" and they're trying to get their hands on it. He pointed out that up till now Ashcroft has accepted the committee's recommendations.