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He has been on television more in the last two weeks than in the first several months of his administration. He has visited sites of massive destruction and has spent much of his time reassuring the country that justice, in this case, will indeed be done. All the while, his more experienced aides around him have been making sure those words mean something. This isn’t the president. It’s Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft and President George W. Bush share more than a superficial similarity. Both were conservative, religious governors who prefer to talk in broader concepts like “justice” and “values” instead of dissecting intricate policy initiatives. Both are instinctive politicians who place a high premium on loyalty and message. And one further common characteristic: Neither comes to the job with the kind of background that seems suited to the job of combating global terrorism. That means, in President Bush’s case, the White House has leaned hard on an experienced foreign policy and defense team, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. In Ashcroft’s case, in overseeing the largest criminal investigation in American history, he has turned to his own “deep bench” of veteran officials in both the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Ashcroft, after all, has virtually no law enforcement experience whatsoever. He has held political office for the bulk of the past 30 years, first as a state auditor in Missouri, then as that state’s attorney general (largely a position that involves civil, not criminal, matters), and serving as Missouri’s governor before spending six years in the Senate. In contrast, his predecessor, Janet Reno, was a former county prosecutor in Miami who spent years managing complex criminal investigations. But fortunately for Ashcroft, he has surrounded himself with people who hold that kind of experience. And one decision in particular seems especially inspired in the wake of the devastating terrorist assault on the United States. It was Ashcroft himself who pushed for the new FBI director, Robert Mueller III, to get the job. MAIN MAN Mueller, who took over the FBI only a few weeks ago, has faced a challenge to the bureau unlike any director before him. But he seems well-positioned to handle it. Mueller is the former U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, as well as the former chief of the department’s criminal division — the division that prosecutes terrorism cases. Moreover, he served as the acting deputy attorney general before Larry Thompson assumed that job in May. Mueller was named to the FBI position based on Ashcroft’s recommendation, who favored him over other high-profile candidates. An ex-Marine, he has taken a highly active role in the wide-ranging probe of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, so much so that Ashcroft’s spokesperson calls him “the case agent” for the investigation. The FBI has seen an unprecedented deployment of manpower related to the investigation. Some 4,000 agents and 3,000 support personnel have been engaged in the effort, utilizing all FBI field offices here and abroad. Last week, the bureau was chasing leads in Boston, Northern Virginia, South Florida, Detroit, Texas, and Minnesota, among other places. And by the end of the week, about 80 people had been detained for further questioning. Aiding Mueller in his effort are two highly experienced terrorism investigators: Thomas Pickard and Dale Watson. Pickard is a 26-year FBI veteran who served as acting director after the departure of former Director Louis Freeh this summer. Pickard has managed both the bureau’s national security division in New York and its Washington, D.C., field office. He helped supervise investigations into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996. Watson is the FBI’s chief of counterterrorism, who in the 1990s also worked as a terrorism expert for the Central Intelligence Agency. In July, Watson made this pronouncement at a conference of the National Governors Association: “I’m not a gloom-and-doom type person. But I will tell you this. … [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States.” Mueller is also being assisted by Ronald Dick, the director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center. The center was opened in 1998 in an effort to guard the nation against attacks on American computers, power plants, and transportation systems. A 20-year FBI veteran, Dick’s team is combing through the hard drives of computers seized in raids and trying to decipher hundreds of e-mails sent by the suspected hijackers and possible associates. And in a bitter irony, the FBI lost one of its greatest anti-terrorism minds as a direct result of the carnage on Sept. 11. John O’Neill, who headed up the FBI investigation of last year’s bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, was killed in the New York attack. One month ago, after a 31-year FBI career, he had taken a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. ASHCROFT ASSERTS HIMSELF For his part, Ashcroft seems determined to stay intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the sprawling investigation. He and his staff have set up operations at the FBI headquarters across Pennsylvania Avenue from Main Justice. Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David Ayres, and his deputy chief of staff, David Israelite, both of whom came with Ashcroft from the Senate, are working out of the FBI, as is one of his staff counsel, Dan Levin. A senior Justice Department official says that decisions relating to the investigation are being made jointly by Ashcroft and Mueller, and that the relationship between the two is “seamless.” The two have typically briefed the media together and, last week, traveled to Pennsylvania to the crash site of one of the hijacked planes. “I had the privilege of talking to those who are sifting through the evidence here, the site, who described searching for evidence on hands and knees,” Ashcroft said as he addressed the media at the crash site. The attorney general, who did away with Reno’s traditional weekly press conferences, has appeared before the media more frequently during the past two weeks than at any point in his tenure. Still, his press-shyness has held. He, unlike fellow Cabinet members Powell and Rumsfeld, has not given interviews during the crisis. Ashcroft and Mueller’s relationship so far makes for a vivid contrast to the one shared by their predecessors, Reno and Freeh, who often seemed to be on different pages, most notably during the investigation of campaign finance abuses during the Clinton administration. Ashcroft is also buttressed by a pair of former U.S. Attorneys in Larry Thompson and Michael Chertoff. Deputy Attorney General Thompson served as chief federal prosecutor in Atlanta during the 1980s and has extensive experience in white-collar and international crime. On the day of the attacks in New York and Washington, Thompson set up camp in the FBI’s strategic command center along with Ashcroft and Mueller. Thompson’s chief of staff, David Laufman, is a former CIA analyst and worked as a lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Chertoff has extensive experience in prosecuting big-time investigations, having served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan whose specialty was putting Mafia figures away. He later became the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Chertoff has taken a prominent role in the investigation, signing off on decisions approving wiretaps, obtaining warrants, arresting material witnesses, and coordinating a grand jury investigation that has been convened in New York. When Chertoff took over the Criminal Division earlier this year, he identified counterterrorism efforts as the division’s primary priority. Beneath Chertoff in the DOJ hierarchy is an influential career prosecutor, James Reynolds, who serves as the Criminal Division’s antiterrorism specialist. Reynolds has played a role in most of the major terrorism investigations of the last decade and has a reputation for being detailed and methodical. He took a leading role in investigating in the Oklahoma City bombing case, the hunt for the Unabomber, and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 (when his boss was Robert Mueller). “Reynolds would be a key player,” says a former senior Justice official. “He’s a seasoned, unflappable guy. Everyone has come to rely on him a lot.” Nationwide, U.S. Attorneys are expected to play a role as well. Last week, Ashcroft instructed each of the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices to form an anti-terrorism task force headed by an experienced federal prosecutor who will work with state and local law enforcement officials in coordinating terrorism investigations and prosecutions. A SECOND FRONT The anti-terrorism effort, like the investigation itself, features multiple fronts. One that emerged last week was congressional, as Ashcroft pushed forward legislation aimed at providing the department with more weapons to track down suspected terrorists in the United States, including the use of so-called “roving” wiretaps that can be used for multiple phones and expanded powers to intercept Internet traffic. Ashcroft’s chief policymaker, Viet Dinh, has taken a leading role in the push. Before the crisis, Dinh, a former Georgetown University law professor with an extensive background in international law, was slated to spend most of his time vetting federal judicial candidates. That, for the moment, has changed. The role of getting the package through Congress on an expedited basis will fall to Dinh and Daniel Bryant, Ashcroft’s legislative affairs director, who formerly served on the Hill as counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime. Veteran career lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel will also be involved as the nation heads toward war in Afghanistan. Randy Moss, who headed the office during the Clinton administration, says the legal groundwork for the upcoming combat there will be unusually tricky, as it will not fit the ordinary definition of war. “This is the first time we will have taken military action against a criminal,” Moss says. Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro contributed to this report.

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