WASHINGTON -- Less than a month after Oracle Corp. hired former Attorney 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, which began last May, just three months after he ended a tumultuous tenure as the nation's top law enforcement officer.
The Justice Department said that 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 might 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 huge databases available in the private marketplace. Such databases are built by firms such as Oracle and filled by companies such as 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 article.
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, a leading supplier of data to police and security agencies, including the FBI, 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 people.
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 she said "we made our decision to close the investigation based on the merits of the case."
In 2004, as attorney general, 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.
Glueck said that "I do not believe that the attorney general spoke with anyone outside the company" about the antitrust implications of the Siebel Systems deal.
Glueck said that Ashcroft also will consult with Oracle on homeland security issues.
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.
President Bush chose Ashcroft to be his attorney general, a move that was widely praised by the Republican Party's social conservative base.
Andrew Zajac writes for the Chicago Tribune.