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Washington-Hard-nosed prosecutor. Evangelical true believer. Bush loyalist. Movement conservative. Of all the labels affixed to John Ashcroft during his more than quarter-century in the public eye, dealmaker hasn’t been one of them. But as Ashcroft moves from political partisan and administration foot soldier to corporate lobbyist, he is trying to repackage his persona. Where once he reveled in his image as a spear-carrier for the Christian right, today the former attorney general presents himself as a polished influence man, one ready to use his experience and connections on behalf of well-heeled clients. You wouldn’t necessarily expect this from Ashcroft. Though silky ex-senators like Louisiana’s John Breaux have quickly become K Street naturals, Ashcroft is rougher trade. Former attorneys general often choose to feather their nest at law firms where they can earn seven figures while billing clients $700 an hour on white-collar criminal cases. And during his tenure as AG, Ashcroft styled himself as the grim-visaged point man in the war on terrorism. For many, he personified the administration’s hard-line stance on civil liberties. And it left him with baggage most former high-level government officials don’t have to worry about. Playing against type Still, Ashcroft chose to play against type and hang out a shingle downtown. “He’s not at the of counsel point of his life,” said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a lobbyist for the Ashcroft Group. “He still wants to play on a very high level.” Ashcroft’s successful entry into lobbying may hinge on how closely he’s identified with his contentious profile in the Senate and in the Bush administration. As a politician, Ashcroft liked to wrap himself in the red, white and blue. But the color K Street cares about is green, and his record of speaking out on divisive issues such as abortion and the USA Patriot Act could make it tougher for him to shed his image as a political lightning rod. Ashcroft’s allies think he can make the switch. “The controversies that he was involved with were never personal,” said David Israelite, the president of the National Music Publishers Association and a former top Ashcroft aide. “The fact that he’s tough is an added benefit to companies . . . .They know he’s going to be a straight shooter. He’s not going to pull punches in the advice he’s going to give.” Ashcroft’s background in business is limited. Though he taught business law in the early 1970s and served as state auditor and, ultimately, governor of Missouri, he has never held a management position in the private sector. “He was basically the CEO of a 130,000-person law firm,” said Adam Ciongoli, a former general counsel at Time Warner Europe and a former Ashcroft adviser at the Justice Department who was recently chosen to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “He managed really significant litigation over a four-year period [at DOJ] and understands complicated civil litigations and how to deal with regulatory agencies.” Before deciding to open his own shop, Ashcroft, 63, and his long-time aide David Ayres consulted with more than two dozen former Cabinet-level officials on how to successfully make the jump into the business world. (Ashcroft declined to be interviewed for this article.) In the months after his decision, Ashcroft assembled a small team of confidants, found office space on New York Avenue Northwest near the White House, and quietly began soliciting clients who deal with issues involving homeland security, antitrust and corporate governance. Besides Ayres, he tapped Republican lobbyist Weiss as his main conduit to Capitol Hill. He also brought on DOJ alum Lori Sharpe Day, formerly a lobbyist for the Air Transport Association of America, and former Bush fundraiser William Gaynor to fill out the ranks. Ayres said the firm plans to expand further next month. Ashcroft’s business plan tracks that of other former Cabinet-level and political appointees who have capitalized on their time in government, such as former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who formed The Cohen Group, and former Federal Emergency Management Agency heads Joe Allbaugh and his predecessor, James Lee Witt, all of whom have built successful lobbying and consulting businesses. “I’m still a lightning rod,” said Allbaugh, now president of The Allbaugh Co. “[The media] think I’m arranging every contract that FEMA or Halliburton has ever won. That just comes with the territory. I don’t like it, but that’s one of the trade-offs.”

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