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John Ashcroft Worries About Obama's Rhetoric on Terrorism

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," January 27, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right. The president, when he outlines his State of the Union address tonight, you know, he doesn't only address domestic matters. He addresses the whole enchilada, everything, covers the whole shooting works, including, well, the shooting, and the fear of shooting, the fear of exploding, terror. It's going to come up tonight.

We don't know if he's call it a war on terror.

John Ashcroft, the former attorney general of these fine United States, probably wishes he would.

You say we have to quit dancing around definitions, right?

JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think it's very important.

The president doesn't have any more important responsibility than defending the country. That's the core competency that's necessary in the president of the United States.

And if the president has a vocabulary or a policy that denies that there is a war on terror, I think it results in policy positions later on that weaken our ability to defend. If you keep talking in terms that there isn't a war, then, if you ever need to use the instrumentalities or mechanisms of war, they're not there. I think...

CAVUTO: And that came up in the Christmas Day bomber issue. Within 50 minutes, he had a lawyer with him and reading him his Miranda rights.

You say, if we had more time — by the way, press secretary Robert Gibbs said 50 minutes was plenty of time. You disagree?

ASHCROFT: Well, I really think that the priority has to be on prevention when it comes to terror. You have to seek to prevent it and you have to maximize the intelligence yield that you get from individuals that you apprehend.

And if you begin to focus on prosecution, which is the rights of the accused, and not the necessity for the prevention of terror on behalf of the public, that can be very dangerous.

CAVUTO: Well, to this argument on the — 50 minutes was enough time for the FBI or whoever passed this along to Gibbs to get the vital things they needed out of him, what's — is there a rule of thumb on that?

ASHCROFT: There is no rule of thumb. And it might have been, but I doubt seriously.

And what you don't learn, you really don't know. So, you may think that you got all you needed to know, but there are frequently unknowns that would be achievable. And I think it behooves us to operate with care.

So, I would like to hear the president, as the leader of the country, assure the country that he understands the seriousness of the recent events, if not what happened prior to his administration, which is, those things that have happened in the last 60 days which should cause us to understand that the terrorists want to do things to hurt us badly, they want to acquire weapons of mass destruction, they want to detonate explosives in ways that not only threaten people in aircraft...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: ... that they are holding back and waiting for something big?

ASHCROFT: Well, I — it's been clear throughout sort of our understanding of terrorism that they especially like things that are notable.

CAVUTO: Dramatic.

ASHCROFT: Dramatic.

CAVUTO: Right.

ASHCROFT: And, obviously, they don't like failures.

And, so, when they fail, they want to try again. They went after the trade towers in New York in '93 and came back again...

CAVUTO: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

ASHCROFT: ... in the early '90s — pardon me — came back.

So, they are intergenerational. As a culture, we're episodic. We sometimes think, if it's not solved in 30 minutes, with four commercial breaks, why, it's not something we can understand.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You're right.

ASHCROFT: We're conditioned that way.

They say what we don't do ourselves, our children will do, our grandchildren will do. I think we need to understand that we need...

CAVUTO: All right.

ASHCROFT: ... to defend the American people for the long haul.

CAVUTO: John Ashcroft, thank you very, very much.

Speaking about commercial breaks, right, well, we are going to one here. And John was kind enough to say he's going to rejoin me later on, on FOX Business Network, which John likes to remind you and all at home, if you do not get, really, you should demand it.

ASHCROFT: Indeed.

CAVUTO: Indeed. Indeed is right.

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