Less than a month after Oracle Corp. hired former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's
lobbying firm, the Justice Department notified Oracle that an antitrust inquiry
into its proposed $5.8 billion acquisition of a rival database software firm
had been dropped.
The decision, announced Tuesday by the department, was no doubt welcome news
for Ashcroft's budding lobbying and consulting career that began last May, just
three months after he ended a tumultuous tenure as the nation's top law-enforcement
The Justice Department said the case was decided on its merits.
As attorney general at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Ashcroft oversaw
a sharp increase of domestic surveillance in the name of national security.
Critics on both the left and right said some of his policies damaged civil liberties.
As a lobbyist and consultant, Ashcroft may now see his clients with national
security interests benefit from the law enforcement and security policies he
promoted while in office.
Ashcroft encouraged greater government scrutiny of personal information in
massive databases available in the private marketplace. Such databases are built
by firms such as Oracle, and filled by companies like ChoicePoint, another client
of the Ashcroft firm. He was also a champion of the Patriot Act, a law that
created a wide range of new government powers in the name of countering terrorism.
Ashcroft declined to comment for this story.
His firm also includes his former chief of staff, David Ayres, and Juleanna
Glover Weiss, a former press secretary to Vice President Dick Cheney. She also
worked for Ashcroft when he was a senator.
Weiss said, "Ashcroft is, of course, one of the most knowledgeable people
in the world in the antitrust and homeland security fields, and so it's natural
that companies like Oracle and ChoicePoint would approach him."
ChoicePoint is a leading supplier of data to police and security agencies,
including the FBI, and has been under fire for well-publicized security breaches
that allowed thieves to fraudulently buy personal information, including in
some cases Social Security numbers and criminal records, of at least 162,000
Firm at center of debate
In addition, ChoicePoint is at the center of a debate over the ground rules
under which the FBI and other federal agencies should be able to access information
on citizens who are not suspected of crimes.
Ashcroft will not lobby for ChoicePoint on regulatory or privacy issues, according
to ChoicePoint spokesman Chuck Jones.
ChoicePoint retained Ashcroft for "business development primarily in the
Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security," Jones said.
Ashcroft will promote ChoicePoint technology for information-sharing and data
mining, and data services used in combating crimes against children, Jones said.
In the case of Oracle, Ashcroft "provided us with internal advice and
counsel," on clearing antitrust hurdles in the proposed purchase of Siebel
Systems Inc., said Ken Glueck, an Oracle senior vice president.
Glueck said the hiring of Ashcroft and the Justice Department's decision amounted
to only "tangentially related events."
Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona declined to discuss the department's
process for clearing the proposed transaction, but said "we made our decision
to close the investigation based on the merits of the case."
In 2004, Ashcroft sued Oracle in an unsuccessful effort to stop the Redwood
Shores, Calif., company's $10.3 billion bid to buy PeopleSoft Inc.
According to lobbying records, Ashcroft and his firm registered to lobby on
antitrust matters for Oracle on Oct. 18, just days before the Justice Department
requested additional information on Oracle's planned purchase of Siebel Systems,
a company that specializes in software that helps businesses manage sales and
other interactions with customers.
Under federal revolving-door restrictions, Ashcroft cannot lobby the executive
branch until February, when he will have been out of government for one year.
But he can lobby Congress immediately.
Consultant for Oracle
Glueck said that "I do not believe that the attorney general spoke with
anyone outside the company" about the antitrust implications of the Siebel
Glueck said that Ashcroft also will consult with Oracle on homeland security
Ashcroft, 63, was a two-term governor of Missouri before being elected to the
Senate in 1994. He lost his re-election bid in 2000 to a dead man, former Missouri
Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash shortly before the election.