Dan Gelfand/The Hoya GPPI Professor Paul Offner claims John Ashcroft asked about his sexuality in a job interview.

A Georgetown University professor has alleged that Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft questioned the professor’s sexual preference during a 1985 job interview. The allegations have added to the controversy surrounding the appointment of one of the country’s most outspoken conservatives to President George W. Bush’s cabinet.

Paul Offner, a research professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, says that Ashcroft asked him if he had “the same sexual preference as most men” during a 1985 interview while Ashcroft was governor of Missouri.

“I said that I did,” Offner said.

As an applicant for the position of director of Missouri Health Services, Offner said he was asked only two questions, one about his sexual preference and another about drug use. Offner said that he also denied ever having used illegal drugs.

Offner, 58, who is now married, was subsequently not hired for the position.

Ashcroft, who has been tapped to head the Department of Justice as the nation’s chief law enforcement agent, and his aides have denied he ever asked a question about sexual preference to Offner.

“That question was never asked of Paul Offner or anyone else,” Carl Koupal, one of the directors of Ashcroft’s gubernatorial transition team, said in an interview with the ilwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Offner, a Democrat, said he decided to come forward with the allegation after Ashcroft asserted in confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had never used sexual preference in determining of whether or not to hire potential employees.

Offner also said that he had recounted the interview to several associates immediately after it occurred.

He said that the reason he came forward with the allegations was not to allege that Ashcroft is anti-gay but rather to question his truth-telling ability.

Representatives from the White House Press Office did not return phone calls placed Monday.

A spokesperson for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee which must approve Ashcroft’s nomination before it can be voted upon by the full Senate, said that Hatch has always supported the nomination of Ashcroft and would continue to do so. She also said that Hatch has not laid out a formal schedule for the confirmation process but would like to have the committee confirmation vote sometime this week.

As part of his research, Offner is involved with the Institute for Healthcare Research at GPPI, focusing specifically on health care, particularly Medicaid, in inner cities.

He said that he has received mixed reactions since coming forward with his allegations.

“People who hate Ashcroft think I’m terrific,” Offner said. He also said that he has gotten several calls and e-mails labeling him as a “troublemaker and pervert.”

“It’s a very hot issue so I’ve been inundated . Last Thursday I think every news outlet had contacted me,” he said. “For two days, I haven’t moved.”

Offner is a former Wisconsin state senator and representative who holds degrees from Amherst College and Princeton University. After a failed bid for the Congress, he held various government positions including stints as Deputy Director the Ohio Department of Human Services, legislative aid to former Sen. Daniel Patrick oynihan (D-N.Y.), Chief Health and Welfare Adviser to the Senate Finance Committee and head of Washington, D.C.’s commission on Health Care Financing. He joined the Georgetown faculty in 1999.

Offner’s allegations have added to the firestorm of controversy surrounding Ashcroft’s appointment, which has drawn criticism from several groups including abortion rights advocates, African-American and gay groups, who have protested that Ashcroft would not uphold the nation’s laws but instead enact his own personal conservative agenda.

Ashcroft has said that as attorney general he will enforce the nation’s laws, even those he disagrees with. Before his nomination as attorney general, he served in the Senate as one of the body’s most outspoken conservatives. He also served as issouri’s governor and attorney general before his election to the Senate. He lost a re-election bid in November to Mel Carnahan, the deceased Missouri governor who died in a plane crash weeks before the election. His wife, Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.) was selected to serve out his term.

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