If the White House thinks it got bad publicity in the wake of Condoleezza Rice's appearance before the 9/11 commission last week -- enough to send the president out to the East Room tonight in damage control mode for a rare press conference -- they ain't seen nothing yet. The New York Times gives a glimpse of draft reports from the 9/11 panel that show Attorney General John Ashcroft, who testifies today, lacked interest and showed alarming inaction toward the terrorism threat before 9/11.
" ... F.B.I. officials were alarmed throughout 2001 by what they perceived as Mr. Ashcroft's lack of interest in terrorism issues and his decision in August 2001 to reject the bureau's request for a large expansion of its counterterrorism programs. The draft reports ... quote the F.B.I.'s former counterterrorism chief, Dale Watson, as saying he 'fell off my chair' when he learned that Mr. Ashcroft had failed to list combating terrorism as one of the department's priorities in a March 2001 department-wide memo. They said the reports would also quote from internal memorandums by Thomas J. Pickard, acting director of the F.B.I. in summer 2001, in which Mr. Pickard described his frustration with Mr. Ashcroft and what he saw as the attorney general's lack of interest in the issue of how the bureau was investigating terrorism suspects in the United States."
Ashcroft might also be asked today about why he stopped flying commercially on government business in the summer of 2001 and instead took to the skies in a luxurious $40 million Gulfstream 5 intended for FBI business, the Times said.
Bush ends seclusion in primetime
The Los Angeles Times reports on the motivation behind the president's primetime news conference tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET, "ending days of relative seclusion amid one of the most politically treacherous periods of his presidency."
"The event ... will probably focus on the growing chaos in Iraq and mounting questions over Bush's leadership before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those topics have grown in prominence in recent days and remain central to Bush's reelection strategy, but the president has remained largely out of view."
" ... Tonight's nationally televised event comes as polls suggest growing public discomfort with Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, which has turned increasingly violent and complicated as insurgents have taken hostages and killed U.S. troops. Adding to pressures on the White House, the widely followed testimony last week by national security advisor Condoleezza Rice before a commission studying government failings before the Sept. 11 attacks did not put to rest all questions about the administration's handling of terrorism. On Saturday, the White House was pressured to release a confidential memo suggesting that Bush had early indications that Al Qaeda terrorist network leader Osama bin Laden was planning major attacks in the United States."
Kerry: What we must do
John Kerry wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post today laying out a plan for resolving the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
" ... To maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them. Progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. Yet the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq. We need a political strategy that will work."
"Over the past year the Bush administration has advanced several plans for a transition to democratic rule in Iraq. Each of those plans, after proving to be unworkable, was abandoned. The administration has set a date (June 30) for returning authority to an Iraqi entity to run the country, but there is no agreement with the Iraqis on how it will be constituted to make it representative enough to have popular legitimacy. Because of the way the White House has run the war, we are left with the United States bearing most of the costs and risks associated with every aspect of the Iraqi transition. We have lost lives, time, momentum and credibility. And we are seeing increasing numbers of Iraqis lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what the Bush administration has and hasn't done."
"... Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police. We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. ... The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility."
"Finally, we must level with our citizens. Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone. The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people."
Gun owners turning on Bush?
The Los Angeles Times reports that gun rights activists, powerful weapons for Bush in the 2000 campaign, are growing disillusioned with the president.
"Four years later, some gun owners have grown so disenchanted with President Bush that they may cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate, stay away from the polls, or even back the likely Democratic nominee, gun-control advocate John F. Kerry. It's unclear how many gun owners could be counted as activists, but they are affiliated with a variety of organizations, from the NRA and Gun Owners of America to smaller state and regional organizations around the country. And they could play a pivotal role in the outcome of this year's presidential race."
"Surprisingly, the issues that have most alienated many gun groups from the Bush administration have little to do with firearms, but rather with the Patriot Act and other homeland security measures instituted after Sept. 11. Opposition to such laws has aligned gun-rights activists with unlikely partners, such as liberal Democrats and the ACLU ... The dilemma Bush faces is that although most gun-rights groups consider him far more friendly to their concerns than Kerry, he may have lost enough of their political support to keep them from becoming an energized and therefore influential voting bloc in a close election."
Timing is everything
Bill Clinton is still writing his long-awaited memoirs long-hand in his home in Chappaqua. Democrats are worried about when he might finish the opus and if the guaranteed publishing sensation will distract from the Democrat who really needs the spotlight this summer: John Kerry. The New York Times says Clinton is calling friends and regaling them with long passages of his biography, and doesn't seem close to finishing.
"Some of Mr. Clinton's friends say he should hurry up. 'It'll get a lot of air space and I think it's kind of imperative that happen in front of the convention,' said John D. Podesta, a chief of staff in Mr. Clinton's White House. That way, he said, 'Kerry's benefited by having a clear shot, clear air space, from the convention through November.'
"A close associate of Mr. Kerry, offering a personal opinion, said: 'If it comes out any time before the election, it's not particularly good for us because he takes up a lot of oxygen. It's less that he's a negative and more that he'll be out on his book tour and he'll be the story of the week rather than John Kerry.'" "Mr. Clinton, who has been working on the book for two years, has promised the Democratic Party's chairman, Terry McAuliffe, that it will be released well before the convention's opening day, July 26, party officials said. Officials said they believed that the book and a nationwide tour could even serve as a boost for Democrats across the nation, as long as it happened before July 26."