Chatterbox: Save Your Lies for the Senate 

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Jan. 25 2001 3:00 AM

Chatterbox: Save Your Lies for the Senate 

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Here is the second relevant exchange from the hearings:

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: Along those lines, let me ask you another question. You were on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Jim Hormel, a person whom I happen to know very well—he comes from my city. I've known him for many, many years—was up for ambassador to Luxembourg.

You voted against him at the time, saying, "because he engaged in a gay lifestyle."

My question to you is, would someone be denied employment by you or not be selected by you for a top position in the Justice Department if they happen to employ a gay lifestyle?

Ashcroft: No, they would not be denied. I have never used sexual orientation as a matter of qualification or disqualification in my offices. I have had individuals whose situation became apparent to me, sometimes tragically, that worked for me, and I have not made that a criterion for employment or unemployment in my office and would not do so.

From the context, it sounds as though Feinstein is saying that she herself heard Ashcroft say he opposed Ashcroft "because he engaged in a gay lifestyle." Actually, that isn't quite right. According to a Feinstein spokesman, Feinstein got the quote from a 1998 story by Lawrence M. O'Rourke in the Sacramento Bee. Here's the passage:

Ashcroft told reporters that Hormel has "actively supported the gay lifestyle"and probably would continue to do so in his diplomatic post in Luxembourg.

As you can see, Feinstein mangled the quote slightly. According to O'Rourke's article, Ashcroft said he opposed Hormel not because he was gay, but because he promoted gayness (a charge Hormel denied, incidentally). But this distinction doesn't have much meaning. If Ashcroft believed Hormel promoted the "gay lifestyle," and that this made him unfit for public office, then Ashcroft can't truthfully claim that his opposition had nothing to do with Hormel's being gay. And he certainly can't claim that it was based on "the totality of the record."

Yes, yes, but did O'Rourke hear Ashcroft make the "because he engaged in a gay lifestyle" remark? Alas, he doesn't remember. But he did tell Chatterbox that it isn't his practice to lift quotations from the clips or anywhere else without verifying them with the source—in this case, Ashcroft.

[Update, 1/25: It seems that Ashcroft also lied when he testified that he has never screened employees for sexual orientation. Paul Offner, a former aide to Sen. Pat Moynihan on health care policy, told David Vise and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post that when then-Missouri Gov. Ashcroft interviewed him in 1985 for a job running Missouri's department of social services, Ashcroft asked, "Mr. Offner, do you have the same sexual preference as most men?" (He does, but he still didn't get the job.) Click here  to read the story.] 

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.