Wednesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 17, 2004 1:20PM (EST)

237 and counting
Reuters writes up a new congressional report prepared for House Democrats that tracks the administration's misleading comments about the supposed immediate threat posed by Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war. The tally: 237 misleading statements so far.

"The report compiled by Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee examined assertions made by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. The report was requested by California Rep. Henry Waxman, the most senior Democrat on the committee and a tenacious critic of some of the contracts awarded to businesses to rebuild Iraq.

"Most of the statements were misleading because they expressed certainty where none existed or failed to acknowledge the doubts of intelligence officials, according to the report. Ten statements were false, it said. In a separate statement, [Rep. Henry] Waxman said the report demonstrated a 'systematic distortion of the intelligence on Iraq,' which he said urgently needs investigation. 'Most of the misleading statements about Iraq -- 161 statements -- were made prior to the start of the war in Iraq. But 76 misleading statements were made by the five administration officials after the start of the war to justify the decision to go to war,' the report said. According to the report, the misleading statements began at least a year before the start of the war in Iraq, when Cheney stated on March 17, 2002: 'We know they have biological and chemical weapons.'"

The database of misleading comments can be found on the committee Web site.

"Nothing to hide"
The New York Times follows up on the charges that the Bush administration threatened to fire a Medicare analyst if he gave Congress his estimates of the cost of prescription drug benefits in the Medicare bill. Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services, has ordered an internal investigation into the accusations.

"'There seems to be a cloud over this department because of this,' Mr. Thompson said. 'We have nothing to hide. So I want to make darn sure that everything comes out.' Mr. Thompson commented amid growing concern over statements by the chief actuary of the Medicare program, Richard S. Foster, who says he was told to withhold estimates of the cost of the legislation. Mr. Foster has said Thomas A. Scully, who was administrator of the program, threatened to dismiss him in June if he provided the information to Congress. On Tuesday, Mr. Thompson told Dara Corrigan, the acting principal deputy inspector general of the department, to investigate."

"Democrats have expressed outrage about the actuary's accusations. On Tuesday, two prominent Republican senators, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, demanded that the administration explain what it knew about the Medicare numbers. 'This is very troubling and disturbing,' Ms. Snowe, a strong supporter of the new law, said. 'You undermine the credibility and integrity of the legislative process any time you deliberately withhold information from Congress. You hamstring our ability to do the best job we can.'"

What if it happened here?
The Dallas Morning News asks whether a terrorist attack in the United States this year could turn the presidential election. "The terrorists believe that if you timed a major terrorist event right before an election, you can stampede a presidential incumbent," said Larry Sabato, whose political science class at the University of Virginia debated the issue this week. An attack in the United States "would make an unpredictable close election even more unpredictable," he said, according to the Morning News.

"After last week's bombings killed at least 200 people and injured 1,500 others, angry Spanish voters threw out the ruling party, which joined the U.S.-led war in Iraq despite heavy public opposition. Americans, though, historically have rallied around their presidents in times of trouble. Plus, the current White House occupant has cast himself as a wartime president and made the struggle against terrorism his central campaign issue."

"There's no possibility for anybody to know" how an attack would affect voters, said Steve Hess, a presidential scholar at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. "President Bush's strongest suit is the war on terror and getting America to feel he's the best person for protecting national security. Anything that brought terrorism closer to us would have to be interpreted politically as being in his favor."

"But Democratic challenger John Kerry has not shied away from criticizing both the president's foreign policy and his homeland-security efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks. So if a Madrid-type attack occurred, the decorated Vietnam veteran could benefit from public outrage over Mr. Bush's inability to keep the country safe, experts said."

Separately, the blog Political Wire cites a recent poll that asked Americans: "If there's another serious terrorist attack within the United States this year, are you more or less likely to vote for President Bush?" The results: Much/somewhat more likely -- 29% Much/somewhat less likely -- 45% Have no effect -- 22%

Bush pleads with wavering allies
The Los Angeles Times reports on President Bush's attempts to steel wavering members of the U.S. led-coalition who are considering joining Spain in plans to withdraw their forces from Iraq this summer.

"As the White House downplayed suggestions that its coalition was beginning to fray, Bush lobbied the Dutch prime minister on the issue but won no commitment that 1,300 troops from the Netherlands would remain in Iraq beyond June. At the same time, Honduran officials said Tuesday that they would pull their 370 troops out of Iraq during the summer, and diplomats speculated that El Salvador and Guatemala might follow suit. Spain's newly elected Socialist leaders promised this week to withdraw the country's 1,300 troops from Iraq by June 30 unless they were serving under a new United Nations mandate."

"A new poll showed that two-thirds of Italians favor the withdrawal of their country's 3,000 troops -- although Italy's leaders promised to stand pat --and opposition Dutch political parties called for military withdrawals."

End of ethics truce?
The Washington Post examines whether the "seven-year ethics truce between congressional Republicans and Democrats has begun to fray under the weight of mounting alleged abuses by House GOP leaders and tensions among Democrats over how aggressively to pursue the matters."

"Some Democrats and outside groups think the reported wrongdoings have reached a critical mass that cries out for investigations and reforms. ... Central to the debate is the House ethics committee, largely dormant since the unwritten truce took effect but rousing in recent days to defend itself against the rain of criticism. Watchdog groups are demanding that the secretive panel show more vigor in pursuing published reports of questionable behavior by lawmakers, and they want an end to the House-approved 1997 rule that bars ethics inquiries based solely on complaints from outsiders."

"Some Democratic activists also are seething, convinced their elected officials are letting Republicans flout ethical standards in ways that were unthinkable when the GOP took control of the House in 1994 ...The recent allegations touch top lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and several committee chairmen. They involve suggestions of bribery and threats on the House floor, illegal use of campaign funds, misuse of a federal agency for political purposes, conflicts of interest, and strong-arm tactics against lobbyists and campaign contributors."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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