The Washington Post leads with today's expected congressional testimony by a senior DOJ official weighing in against renewing the Independent Counsel statute, which is the first time the Clinton administration has officially taken this stand, and marks a reversal of Justice's longstanding support for the IC. The New York Times plays this story top-front, but leads instead with Madeleine Albright's meetings in Beijing with top Chinese officials, in which she expressed the U.S.'s displeasure with their recent crackdown on opposition groups, but was nonetheless encouraging about China's chances of joining the World Trade Organization. The Times sees the meeting as illustrating the Clinton administration's persistent separating of human rights and economic issues when it comes to China. The Los Angeles Times fronts Albright, reading her stance as more of a "honeymoon is over" break from past Clinton China policy, but leads with the pledge by what it calls one of the nation's most aggressive labor unions to spend $1 million a year to organize physicians, especially those who are salaried employees of large organizations, such as HMOs. USA Today leads with revelations at a congressional hearing yesterday that the IRS cannot perform some of the basic accounting and record-keeping tasks it expects of taxpayers. According to the story, based on a GAO report, sloppy IRS practices meant that in the first nine months of 1998 the agency doled out $17 million in fraudulent and wrong refunds and that it lost track of a Chevy Blazer and a $300,000 laser printer. The IRS didn't dispute the charges, but attributed the problems to outdated computers and personnel turnover, problems it's addressing, says the paper, but which take time.
According to the Post and NYT (which scrupulously credits today's Post for all such details), Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder will testify that the IC statute cannot be fixed, but also that there is no need to do so, since the DOJ can investigate most official wrongdoing itself. When there would be a conflict of interest in doing so, Holder will say, the DOJ could still name special counsels. But the papers don't say how this capability is thought by the administration to avoid the perceived most problematic feature of the current law: that if an independent counsel is to be truly not controlled by the executive branch, he must be virtually immune from dismissal. Both papers show how times have changed by quoting Janet Reno in 1993, when the Clinton administration was plumping for the statute's renewal: "It is my firm conviction that the law has been a good one, helping to restore public confidence in our system's ability to investigate wrongdoing by high-level Executive Branch officials."
The WP, which along with the Boston Globe previously broke the news that U.N. weapons inspection teams operating in Iraq employed equipment and personnel provided by U.S. intelligence services, today deepens the story with the claim that such infiltration went on for three years, was without the knowledge of the U.N. teams, and produced much valuable intelligence that was completely unrelated to the inspectors' assignments. This contrasts, the paper explains, with previous Clinton administration reactions to the original story according to which any such use of intelligence equipment or agents was done with the full witting cooperation of the inspectors and produced information related to their inspection mission. The story contains excellent detail about how the covert intelligence collection worked: the radio relay system used by the U.N. inspectors to transmit images from the hinterlands back to Baghdad concealed antennas used to intercept Iraqi military transmissions. The story also reveals that some of the UN inspectors suspected U.S. hanky panky, as did an Iranian spy in Baghdad, whose radio message about the operation was intercepted by British intelligence. When the Brits asked the U.S. what was up, says the paper, they weren't told.
The fronts at USAT, the WP and LAT report that the nation's main group of pediatricians has substantially backed off its long-held neutral position on circumcision for male infants. The group now holds that the practice is not essential to a child's well-being and that "parents should not be coerced by medical professionals" into having it done. Also, the group says that if the procedure is done, the baby should receive pain relief beforehand. The report does say that physicians should respect opting for the operation on religious or cultural grounds.
Today's Papers has more than a passing interest in a civil case written up in the "Work Week" column of the Wall Street Journal. Seems a federal court jury awarded $700,000 (later reduced to $300,000) to a United Airlines employee when she suffered a breakdown after three years on the night shift and United turned down her request to switch to days. The column also passes along heartening news about ex-welfare hires: they quit at a much lower rate than other employees.
First the credibility, then the credit. "The Reliable Source" in the WP reports that yesterday when Bill Clinton went book shopping during his ski vacation in Utah, he tried to pay with his American Express card. There was only one problem: it was expired.