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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 03:26 GMT
Bush nominees grilled by Senate
John Ashcroft
John Ashcroft denies Mr White's allegations
John Ashcroft, the nominee for US attorney-general, distorted the record of a black Missouri judge when he blocked him from a job on the federal bench, a Senate confirmation hearing has heard.

Mr Ashcroft, as a Missouri senator in 1999, rallied fellow Senate Republicans to stop State Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White from joining the high court on the grounds he was soft on criminals.

Missouri Justice Ronnie White
Ronnie White is a highly respected judge
In his testimony to senators on Thursday, Mr White said Mr Ashcroft had treated him unfairly.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved President-elect George W Bush's least controversial nomination, Colin Powell, to serve as secretary of state.

But another nominee, Interior Secretary-designate Gale Norton, faced tough questioning on her environmental record.

'Not a racist'

The attorney-general-designate has been accused of racism, and has come under strong criticism from liberals, who say his conservative views make him unfit to be the country's top law enforcement officer.

Mr White, the first black person to be named to the Missouri high court, said he did not think Mr Ashcroft was racist. But he said Mr Ashcroft had made him out to be a "pro-criminal".

"I believe that [former] Senator John Ashcroft seriously distorted my record," Mr White told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Mr Ashcroft's appointment.

"But I believe the question for the Senate is whether these misrepresentations are consistent with fair play and justice that you all would require of the attorney-general."

'Outrage'

Mr White said he was most troubled by the lack of opportunity to respond to Mr Ashcroft's accusations at the time.

Ashcroft supporters
People are demonstrating in support and against Mr Ashcroft
He said: "While I don't think Senator Ashcroft is a racist, there was a lot of outrage about my nomination being rejected and particularly in the African-American community.

"And the reason for that outrage I believe is that when you have an African-American judge, African-Americans see that as one more step toward true equality."

On Wednesday Mr Ashcroft told the hearing he had acted properly in carrying out his duties.

He reiterated his charge that Mr White was soft on crime, noting in particular his opposition to the death sentence for a Missouri man who had killed a sheriff, two deputies and another sheriff's wife.

Senate split

Despite the grilling candidates received, the Senate confirmation hearings are expected to approve Mr Ashcroft's and Ms Norton's nominations.

Colin Powell at Senate confirmation hearing
Colin Powell: The least controversial nomination of all
The Senate is split, 50-50, between Republicans and Democrats. Republican Dick Cheney will have the tie-breaking Senate vote once he is sworn in as vice-president on Saturday.

Meanwhile, senators questioning Mr Powell showed great deference, with Senator Jesse Helms and several of his committee colleagues referring to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as "Mr Secretary" during the hearing.

Senator Joseph Biden called the retired general's four-and-a-half hour performance, without the benefit of notes, a "tour de force" - although his answers did contain a few factual errors.

When the nomination goes before the full Senate on Friday, correspondents say expectations are high of a unanimous vote, similar to that received by Madeleine Albright four years ago.

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16 Jan 01 | Americas
Spotlight on key Bush nominee
22 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush appoints conservative law chief
08 Nov 00 | Americas
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