The New York Times leads with the first meeting of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at which Bush endorsed the concept of a separate defense force for European peacekeeping so long as it would not supersede NATO. The leaders discussed Bush's plan for a national missile defense system, an idea unpopular in Britain and that Blair sidestepped endorsing. The Washington Post leads with the latest Clinton pardon developments: 1) An unnamed law enforcement official said former President Clinton was being investigated for whether his commutation of the fraud sentences of four New York Hasidic Jewish leaders was "payback for their community's support for his wife's Senate campaign." 2) The Senate and House widened their pardon investigations yesterday. The Los Angeles Times leads with a tentative deal for Southern California Edison to sell its portion of California's transmission grid to the state to alleviate the electricity crisis.
Only the NYT lead on Blair and Bush, which the WP fronts and the LAT reefers, mentions that Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have expressed reservations about the separate European military arm and why such a force could use NATO equipment and could be sent on missions not endorsed by the U.S. And while both papers make it clear that a national missile defense system doesn't go over well with the British, no one explains exactly why. (The NYT comes closest in explaining that Britain would have to make at least one radar site available for use in a U.S. shield.) The LAT is the only paper to lead with the national missile defense system discussion; the others lead with the European defense force endorsement. The leaders also discussed how to strengthen and narrow sanctions against Iraq, though Bush warned Saddam Hussein that any such change should not "embolden" Hussein. Bush also said he received a conciliatory response from Chinese officials to his complaint that Chinese workers had been detected helping to build a communications system for Iraqi air defenses. The WP points out that while Bush described this nugget as news, the response had actually surfaced in a meeting earlier Friday between the U.S. ambassador to China and the Chinese vice foreign minister.
The WP is the only paper to front the pardon story. (The LAT and the NYT both stuff it.) The main news is that while the Hasidic Jews' commutations were speculated to be directly tied to Sen. Clinton's campaign, there is now a law enforcement official (mentioned only by the WP, and only in its lead) saying that the investigation is looking into a direct connection between the two. The LAT and NYT both mention only alleged links between the commutations and Sen. Clinton's campaign. The WP reports the Senate widened its probe to include the clemencies Hugh Rodham was involved in (the LAT mentions this in its Roger Clinton off-lead) and that the House subpoenaed the head of the Clinton library foundation board and Beth Dozoretz, Denise Rich's friend who had pledged to raise $1 million for the library foundation, for House hearings next week.
The LAT leads with Gov. Gray Davis' announcement that the state is willing to pay $2.76 billion for Southern California Edison's share of the statewide electrical transmission grid as a way to help the company restructure its debt and keep power flowing. (The NYT and WP stuff this.) The catch: Pacific Gas & Electric, a utility that supplies Northern and Central California and that has so far rebuffed such offers from the state, would have to agree to a similar deal. No further talks between Davis' negotiators and PG&E are scheduled, says the LAT.
The NYT off-leads Powell's first visit to the Middle East by detailing the current violence that will serve as a backdrop to his meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The WP's off-lead briefly mentions Powell's trip, too, but in a different context: a look at the "open sanctions-busting" and growing economic strength in Iraq 10 years after the Gulf War.
The NYT fronts the revelation of a secret investigative FBI-CIA team that played a crucial role in the recent arrest of alleged Russian spy Robert Philip Hanssen. The " 'mole-hunting' unit" was formed after the arrest of convicted CIA spy Aldrich Ames because of continued intelligence losses. The WP also fronts a Hanssen follow-up, but of a different nature: The paper details, at great length according to the affidavit filed against Hanssen this week, the psychology behind his alleged relationship to the Russians. While there are ample entertaining quotes that smack of Valentines from the KGB playing Hanssen like a fiddle--"Thank you for your friendship and help," wrote one Soviet official--it's not until the 32nd paragraph that the possibility is raised that Hanssen's needy correspondence might have been just as calculated, simultaneously playing the Russians.
The LAT off-leads with its "exclusive" Roger Clinton interview, in which he clarified the number of people he requested pardons for (six), detailed how he did it (channeled them through lawyers, the Justice Department, and then placed them on a list left in the White House for his brother to find), and expressed his disappointment when he found they weren't granted. He stressed that he took no money for the pardons. Both the NYT and WP stuff mentions of the LAT's scoop.
A special relationship? Back to Tony and George for a beat. Everybody compares the Bush-Blair interaction to the close friendship and connection in politics between Blair and Clinton. When pressed for similarities, Bush responded, "Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste." To which Blair replied, "They're going to wonder how you know that, George." Today's Papers wonders if that should have been filed under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell category or just plain Too Much Information.