WASHINGTON, DC—John Ashcroft, the tough, no-nonsense U.S. attorney general famous for his refusal to take orders, was assigned a rookie trainee Tuesday.
"John's taking it well," President Bush said, introducing Ashcroft's new partner, Deputy Attorney General Nate N. Burnhard, to the press. "He threw a couple chairs around the office, and he broke the two-way mirror in the Department of Justice squad room, but I'm sure it won't be long before he comes around to the idea of showing Burnhard here the ropes. It's about time John came in from the cold and started playing along with the team."
According to Bush, the 28-year-old Burnhard shows "real promise," having arrived at the department with a law degree from Yale and two years of exemplary service in the Orange County, CA district. Ashcroft, however, called his new partner a "spoiled, wet-behind-the-ears, candy-assed, beach-bum brat who'll need years of babysitting before he'll be good for anything but getting in my goddamn way."
"I got drugs to fight, I got terror to fight, and I got all kinds of crime to fight," Ashcroft said, pounding a battered steel desk piled high with cluttered stacks of papers and file folders. "I got nothing but a few snitches, some overworked uniformed DOJ agents, and 11 years of inefficient intelligence to do it with. Now they want me to hand-hold some damn surfer-boy fresh outta law school? Who the fuck do they think they're dealing with?"
Continued Ashcroft: "How do I know he's not some kind of freakin' communist? Because the suits in personnel say so? Ha. Nice try. Listen, I'd sooner shoot myself in the guts than give Romeo over there [former Deputy Attorney General] Jim [Comey]'s old office. He doesn't set foot in there until I know he's no flake."
In the preliminary days of working with Burnhard, Ashcroft has largely ignored his rookie partner, sending him on coffee runs and wild-goose chases in the stacks of the CIA library while Ashcroft followed up on leads, shook down street-level terrorist informants, and addressed a congressional panel on the importance of Patriot Act II.
"I'm the chief law officer of this country," Ashcroft said. "I don't have time to explain every move I make. I'm not a friggin' kindergarten teacher."
Burnhard said he has attempted to win Ashcroft's respect by working quietly and diligently in his tiny office, never complaining that his desk was installed in a broom closet in a blatant attempt to haze him out.
"It can't be easy accepting someone new after working with Comey for so many years," Burnhard said, poring over a stack of paperwork under the light of his office's single, swinging bare bulb. "I realize there's going to be a breaking-in period for me, but it's worth it, just to work with a legend like Ashcroft. He's earned his attitude. Do you realize he has to legally represent the U.S. before the Supreme Court? A job like that's gotta be hell on a guy."
Burnhard said that, for now, he's more than happy to type Ashcroft's reports, wait in the car for hours on end, and listen to crime-fighting stories.
"Last night, we pulled a late one staking out an Internet piracy network," Burnhard said. "After a few hours sitting there in the car together, he finally started to open up. I don't necessarily agree with his theories about widening subpoena powers or expanding the federal death-penalty statute, but I have to admit that he gets the job done. He's loyal to himself, this country, and the department—in that order."
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said she has worked closely—or as closely as anyone dares—with Ashcroft for years, and has a guess as to why he's reluctant to take a partner.
"John hasn't been the same since what happened to Comey," Rice said. "Everyone close to him knows he doesn't want the responsibility of losing another partner. When Jim was shot chasing a suspected Taliban operative down that Georgetown alley, John blamed himself. But John has to realize that this partnership could help him just as much as it'll help Burnhard and the United States of America."