The New York Times leads with evidence that will be presented against four men charged in the bombing of two American embassies in East Africa. According to the court record, U.S. intelligence intercepted phone conversations and fax exchanges between Muslim extremists that link Osama bin Laden directly to terrorist activity. The Washington Post leads with the Justice Department's request to send more than 300,000 federal workers home early from work Thursday to prevent traffic mayhem during Bush's celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. The request was made after Bush's inaugural planners rejected the idea of starting the events later in the day in order to prevent gridlock during afternoon rush hour. The Los Angeles Times leads (and the NYT off-leads) with California's decision to spend $25 million to purchase electricity when the utilities failed to come up with the funds themselves. Although many lawmakers applauded the decision, consumer activists charged that the purchase was akin to a bailout of a private utility and therefore unlawful. The governor, utility officials, and Clinton administration officials will speak today in a teleconference to address the crisis. No blackouts have been ordered, but the state remains in a power emergency, and a conservation program has been adopted. The NYT reports that the state assembly has approved two long-term solutions: restructuring the boards of the two entities responsible for the distribution of power and preventing private utilities from selling off more of their electrical plants.
American intelligence agents began monitoring a terrorist cell in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1996, turning up evidence that implicated bin Laden in the 1993 attack on American troops in Somalia and that identified him "as a serious threat to the national security of the United States." But even while the cells were under close scrutiny, they managed to bomb the American embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania.
The LAT fronts, above the fold, new details about Efren Saldivar's confession that he was responsible for as many as 200 deaths at the hospital where he worked as a respiratory therapist. A recently unsealed court transcript includes a diatribe the self-proclaimed "Angel of Death" unleashed against Armenian patients, whom he felt were taking advantage of government assistance.
The WP off-leads the strategic partnership treaty soon to be signed by Beijing and Moscow. Among the issues covered: Russia's weapons sales to China, support for China's space program, and unified opposition to a U.S. missile defense system.
The NYT and WP front Clinton's attempt to create a blueprint for a peace agreement in the Mideast before he leaves office. But whereas the NYT focuses on the details of his last-minute efforts, the WP suggests that he has all but given up on getting the deal signed before his term ends. At Clinton's urging, Yasser Arafat has agreed to send his negotiators to meet with the Israelis by Thursday to address key issues such as the fate of Jerusalem.
The WP goes high with accusations leveled against Katherine Harris for her handling of the Florida vote. Appearing before a fact-finding commission looking into possible irregularities, Harris said that because she had delegated responsibility to others for the Nov. 7 vote, she was unqualified to answer many of the panel's questions. The head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights deemed Harris' testimony "laughable."
Only the LAT fronts Ashcroft's commencement address at Bob Jones University. (The WP and NYT run it inside.) Nothing in the speech is likely categorically to jeopardize his nomination, but both the LAT and WP put pressure on his remark that America has "no king but Jesus." The LAT notes that even though the speech didn't produce for Democrats the damning material they had hoped for, many are using Ashcroft's decision to speak at the controversial school as a touchstone for their objection to his appointment.
A WP front-pager examines the issues at stake in the Ashcroft nomination--in particular, his opposition to legislation he has criticized but would be responsible for enforcing, including Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, laws against discrimination against homosexuals, and gun control.
The NYT runs, below the fold, a story on the growing furor in Europe over NATO ammunition fortified with depleted uranium used in the Balkans. Physicists and medical experts from U.S. institutions have refuted the suggestion that allied troops contracted leukemia from exposure to the material.
The WP and the LAT reefer the report that Ronald Reagan broke his right hip in a fall at his home. He's scheduled for surgery Saturday morning.
On the front below the fold, the NYT reports that Clinton is set to pardon Michael Milken, who after being convicted of securities fraud in 1990 served two years in prison and paid over $1 billion in fines. The paper notes that in his appeal for pardon, Milken benefited from the support of Ron Burkle, a friend of the president who pledged $135 to the presidential library to be built in Little Rock.
If the Army can do it ... The NYT reports that Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Holy Trinity in Utah are offering three-day "come and see" retreats for those who might be inclined to the monastic life. The Roman Catholic Church has begun a marketing campaign in response to a decline in the number of its priests, nuns, and brothers. The Archdiocese of Chicago now advertises on billboards and on buses. And the Diocese of Pittsburgh is running TV ads about the priesthood.