USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday's 6.8-magnitude earthquake hitting Seattle and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, which may have produced $1 billion in damage, one death (from a heart attack), and a few hundred injuries (mostly from falling debris). The papers report that the quake's consequences weren't worse because the seismic activity that produced it was so deep under the earth's surface--some 30 miles under--and because of Seattle's building standards. The Washington Post and New York Times front the quake but lead with the unveiling of the Bush administration's preliminary budget document.
The Post budget lead emphasizes the fast track the plan's tax cut is being put on in the Republican-led Congress and that Democrats have complained about this because the actual line-item budget won't be ready for weeks. The NYT plays higher and with a bit more detail the plan's various spending cuts. The Times says that administration officials briefing the press "appeared to be deliberately vague" about where spending cuts would be made. The Post says they were "reluctant" to discuss this, and then quotes the head of the Bush budget office saying, "You'll have to search long and hard. There are very few." But the NYT claims that eight of the 15 big Cabinet-level departments would see their budgets decline, with some of the smaller agencies like NASA barely keeping pace with inflation.
The Post says the Bush officials "scoffed" at a new analysis made by a liberal group--and picked up on by congressional Democrats--which found that 43 percent of the Bush tax cuts would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. The paper says that "without producing any administration figures to counter the claim," Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill dismissed it as "a nonsense set of statistics." A Post inside follow on the topic adds that neither O'Neill nor the chief White House economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, was able to say yesterday what percentage of the cuts they think would go to the richest 1 percent.
The WP off-leads reports from unnamed Israeli security sources that in reaction to the continued violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israelis are discussing possibly militarily retaking territory currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The thinking in this direction has especially strengthened, says the paper, since Ariel Sharon's election as the next prime minister. The story adds that yesterday the Israeli military chief of staff said the Palestinian Authority is becoming a "terrorist entity."
The NYT fronts today's pardon scoop: Bill Clinton's brother-in-law--and brother of Sen. Hillary Clinton--Tony Rodham, helped obtain a presidential pardon in March 2000 for a Tennessee couple convicted in 1982 of bank fraud, over the objections of the Justice Department. Rodham admits to the Times that he (unlike his brother Hugh in a different pardon effort) directly asked Bill Clinton to pardon the two. Tony Rodham said he got no fee for his effort. But the paper reports that Rodham has worked as a consultant for the husband, who is in the carnival and radio businesses, and once helped him land a White House carnival gig. The paper says that Justice's negative recommendation in the couple's case was, in the words of a DOJ source, "a no brainer" based on their unwillingness to accept the criminality of their actions, which caused the failure of two banks. The White House was told by the DOJ pardon folks, says the paper, that the case was the most serious bank fraud ever prosecuted in Alabama.
A NYT fronter peers in to watch Bill Clinton "drift through the cloud of his post-presidential days." And what you see isn't pretty. Clinton roaming around his 11-room Chappaqua home with Buddy, with no advisers or friends there to help him deal with his exit disasters or to show him how to place his own phone calls. But he's had plenty of time to learn how to use his new ATM card and his new PalmPilot because Hillary isn't there a lot. She's only able to make it back on weekends, and "not always then." And he's only spent one night back in Washington with her since leaving.
USAT intrigues with a well-reported piece about the difficulties involved in a U.S. attempt to capture Osama bin Laden, who's been indicted for 200-plus murders. The government has been planning a "snatch-and-grab" of him since 1996, reports the paper, but the chances of success seem to be diminishing over time. For one thing, bin Laden seems to be constantly on the move--he prepares several different possible sleeping locations every night and decides which one only at the last minute, often only informing one or two aides. And he's stopped talking on satellite phones, which had been a reliable way to track him--preferring now to communicate in hand-written code. Plus, he is protected by dozens of armed-to-the-teeth fanatical guards including some from the Taliban, the militia that controls most of Afghanistan. So extracting him would mean quite a firefight--and the risk of a lot of American losses. So how did the AP--whose 1998 head-and-shoulders shot of the man himself accompanies the story--find him?
Attention, federal budget cutters. A WP spy scandal fronter is headlined "HANSSEN CARRIED SECRETS BETWEEN FBI, STATE DEPT" and is about the extraordinary access to intelligence he had in his five years as a liaison between the two agencies. But the real news of the story is positively buried way after the jump. Way down there, one former State Department intel type spills the real top secrets of the FBI when he tells the paper a key reason Hanssen was apparently able to use the assignment to nose around so much: "What he was supposed to be doing would take maybe an hour and a half" per day.