WASHINGTON – Retiring Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), the one-time senator from Missouri, said he thinks some of his former colleagues are on the wrong track when it comes to creating roadblocks to the confirmation of his would-be successor, former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (search).
"I've sat on both sides of that table in the Senate. I went through a difficult confirmation proceeding of my own," Ashcroft told FOX News on Thursday in one of his last media interviews before retiring from the post.
"But I'm not going to advise the Senate Democrats on politics. I'm delighted that the president's understanding of politics has been endorsed overwhelmingly by the American people and whether they want to learn from that or not, is up to them," he said.
Democrats are promising a heated and contentious debate before the vote on Gonzales' confirmation next week. If confirmed, Gonzales would become the 80th attorney general and first Hispanic in the job.
On Thursday, Sen. Maria Cantwell (search) of Washington added her name to the growing list of Democrats who will oppose his nomination.
"It is essential that the person the Senate confirms for this position is independent. I am unconvinced that he has the independence to be the nation's leading law enforcement officer," Cantwell said in a statement.
Ashcroft also faced his own set of attacks by Democrats both before and after his confirmation, and in particular regarding his crafting and support of the USA Patriot Act (search), signed into law just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The law, which expands the ability of law enforcement to collect intelligence domestically, was derided by critics as a breach of civil liberties.
But after Sept. 11, Ashcroft said that the Justice Department had no choice but to turn from being a strictly law enforcement agency to one that also took interest in counter-terrorism activities.
"I would like to make a point about terror and that is this, that it's organic, it changes. If we put in place certain defenses, the terrorist is going to try and skirt those defenses and he'll make adjustments," he said.
Ashcroft said that while Al Qaeda's (search) ability to operate and raise money has been significantly degraded, the terror network and related associated groups still have a "serious intention" to strike the United States. The Justice Department has uncovered plans aimed at bridges, infrastructure and shopping malls.
"They see the United States as a evil, they resent the freedom that we have," he said, adding that additional steps could be taken to strengthen the Patriot Act in the years ahead.
Ashcroft also praised the president's steady hand in the long-term fight against terrorism.
"I met with the president this morning. I intend to meet with him tomorrow morning. I met with him yesterday morning. Every morning he assesses what it is we can do to win another day in the War on Terror," he said. "It's the kind of effort that you can only win one day at a time."
Ashcroft said he believes his legacy extends beyond the War on Terror (search). He cites the nation's violent crime rate, now at its lowest level in 30 years. He said he believes the Justice Department has aggressively prosecuted white collar criminals — under the corporate fraud task force, more than 600 defendants have been convicted, including top executives at Enron (search) and Worldcom (search).
On the investigation into the United Nations' Oil-for-Food (search) program with Iraq, the attorney general said the plea agreement with Iraqi-American Samir Vincent, announced last week, was an important step in the process, but more prosecutions likely lie ahead.
"The Oil-for-Food situation is a serious situation. It took seriously the plea, which was entered. It is an ongoing investigation so we don't consider it to be concluded in any respect," he said.
As a devout Christian, Ashcroft said he has turned to his faith for guidance many times in the last four years.
"I'd say that's a daily occurrence for me. I want to welcome presence, wisdom, and the mercy of God in my life every day," he said. "I think that any time I seek to be at my best I have to ask for that kind of help."
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by Fox News' Catherine Herridge.