Missourians hold key positions in U.S. Justice Department

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- It's widely known that the man running the U.S. Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is from Missouri. What's not so well known is that the department's No. 2 official also hails from the state.

Larry Thompson works closely with Ashcroft as his deputy attorney general.

"John and I meet every day, and we talk to each other a number of times each day," Thompson said in a recent interview with the Hannibal Courier-Post. "We go to each other's offices. We have an outstanding working relationship and have become friends."

Thompson said that as chief executive officer of the department Ashcroft is responsible for setting policy while Thompson's job as chief operating officer is running day-to-day operations.

"We are both from Missouri and relatively small towns," Thompson said.

"I find it interesting that two guys from Missouri are running the Department of Justice."

Thompson was back on his home turf to spend Mother's Day with his mother, Ruth Baker, and speak at commencement at Culver-Stockton College in Canton.

Intense pressure

The pressure of his job can be intense:

"Sometimes I feel like I'm drinking water out of a fire hydrant," he said. But he's not complaining. Thompson said he's honored to have such an opportunity to serve the country.

His 12-hour work day in Washington starts early. His daily schedule is prepared by staff and may include one or two meetings each hour.

"I have a meeting with the CIA and after that meeting I meet with the FBI," Thompson said. "Those are in the FBI building, then I go across the street to the Department of Justice building and meet with people on my staff who handle national security matters."

After Sept. 11, of course, Thompson's life and work changed dramatically.

"I was thrown into two things that were much different from what I had done before," Thompson said. "I became deeply involved in national security."

"We were meeting constantly with our colleagues in other departments on important national security matters and domestic security matters,"

Thompson said the Justice Department has remained in the position of making decisions that affect people throughout the country.

"Every day since 9-11, I go to these meetings," he said. "Every day you go back to your office wondering if you have had the correct response. These are things that do not go away. It's a tremendous amount of pressure, when you have the lives of your fellow citizens in your hands. You are concerned about whether you have taken the right course of action."

No 'Washington mentality'

Despite having the second highest position in the department, Thompson said he has no intention of becoming part of what he calls the "Washington mentality." Instead, he will continue to call Atlanta his home.

When his job in Washington is done, he plans to return to his law practice in Atlanta, where his wife, Brenda, is continuing her career as a school psychologist, and their two adult sons return for visits.

"I do not plan on moving to Washington," he said. "I feel strongly about this. I don't think it's good as a public official to get caught up in Washington, D.C., mentality."

"I don't want to feel like I'm so tied into that culture that I'm afraid to lose it."

Thompson quoted the advice of his former partner and career mentor, Griffin Bell, who served as attorney general under President Carter.

"He said if you are going to be successful in Washington, you need to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice, and I've taken his advice seriously."

Thompson also believes in the advice of another fellow Missourian, President Harry Truman, who said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

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