Ashcroft To Cooperate With Congress on Marc Rich Pardon

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

( - Attorney General John Ashcroft, in his first news conference Monday, said he will cooperate with Congress on the Marc Rich pardon, even when it comes to granting immunity to Denise Rich, the fugitive financier's ex-wife.

"It is always important for us to take those kinds of requests very seriously," said Ashcroft. "I respect the right of the United States Congress to get information and to grant immunity in order to get information.

"And I respect the need for cooperation, so it's with that in mind that I would say that I would be very pleased to work with the department to cooperate with the Congress whenever possible. I don't want to say that we have made a decision on the request, but we will work with the understanding of the need for the Congress to get its work done as well," said the attorney general.

Ashcroft also said enforcement of gun laws is among his top priorities.

"We need strict enforcement of gun laws, and I will begin an internal task force in the Department of Justice that will focus on the enforcement of our gun laws, so as to provide a basis for reducing the incidence of gun crime in America," said the attorney general.

Ashcroft also plans to target the drug problem, especially among young people.

"I'm disturbed by the increase in the reported use of some drugs among children, among individuals in school, and I will have a working group take a look at the problem of drug use and to assess the best way to combat increased drug use, especially drug use among children," Ashcroft said.

Putting an end to racial discrimination, Ashcroft said, is his third priority as attorney general.

"No one should feel outside the protection of the law. No one should be beyond the reach of the law--in housing, as it relates to racial profiling, in terms of voting rights. Every American has the right to expect that the implementation and enforcement of the laws be fair and be equal and that the protections of the law be accorded to all."

Ashcroft said he plans to hold his first divisional meeting with the civil rights division to get recommendations on combating discrimination.