Take Five

Take Five

Take Five

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 25 2002 6:17 AM

Take Five

USA Today's lead is the revelation that President Bush is considering punishing Yasser Arafat for the PLO's apparent attempt to buy weapons from Iran. The PLO leader may well have irreparably exasperated the United States by claiming to know nothing about a ship carrying arms to the Palestinians when U.S. intelligence has shown otherwise. The Washington Postreefers the story under a headline that's more dramatic than USAT's, U.S. MAY CUT TIES WITH ARAFAT. USAT says that's unlikely. The WP and New York Timeslead with the opening of Enron hearings in Congress where Andersen officials faced tough questions from a House subcommittee on how documents came to be shredded. The Los Angeles Timeslead reports that the House has gathered enough support to force a vote on a campaign finance reform bill. The first item in the Wall Street Journal's worldwide news box is word that the human rights group Amnesty International has asked the INS to be allowed to tour three centers that are holding Sept. 11 detainees in what Amnesty believes are harsh conditions. The INS is considering the request.

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The Andersen witnesses blamed Andersen's now-fired lead Enron auditor for the document destruction, the coverage reports. The lead auditor took the Fifth as the papers anticipated he would yesterday. The WP says that the questioning focused on an Andersen memo that recommended auditors work overtime to uphold the firm's policy on the destruction and retention of documents related to Enron. Lawmakers pointed out that one might interpret the memo to mean employees should stay late shredding documents. No, no, an Andersen lawyer insisted, Andersen meant employees should work to retain all documentation.

The papers thank controversy over Enron's campaign donations for the renewed push for a House campaign finance reform bill. The WP and the NYT—which have both recently run editorials arguing that Enron's financial tentacles in political Washington demonstrate that campaign finance reform is a must—only mention the Enron-campaign finance reform link, while the LAT sub-heds its story with it. (In a piece inside, the NYT tallies the number of Congressional Enron investigators who have received campaign contributions from Enron or Andersen: 212 out of 248). Two Democrats and two Republicans in the House turned pro-campaign finance reform, securing enough support for the vote. The debate on the bill could begin as early as next month, the WSJ guesses. The papers note that according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Bush is unlikely to veto a reform bill.

USAT and the WP say that the punishments the White House is considering for Arafat include, in addition to severing ties: calling off appointed peacemaker Anthony Zinni's mission, shutting down the PLO office in Washington, and putting Arafat's security detail and a Palestinian youth organization on the State Department's terrorist list. USAT's lead points out up high that ending U.S.-PLO relations could, in general, anger Muslims whom the United States wants to support the anti-terrorism campaign. But the analysis doesn't attempt to gauge what the reaction of Arab nations important to the anti-terrorism fight would be to the various punitive measures Bush is contemplating. Top foreign policy advisers meet today to present recommendations for dealing with the PLO.

The papers front the first day in a Virginia court for the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Lindh, buzz cut and speaking slightly accented English, said only that he understood the charges against him. Afterward, Lindh's lawyer told reporters that Lindh had asked for, and been denied, a lawyer before making self-incriminating statements while in custody. The Justice Department countered that he waived all his legal rights in writing.

The papers cover, the WP on its front, U.S. Special Forces raids on two Taliban camps near Kandahar. Fifteen Taliban were killed, 27 more captured, many escaped, and a U.S. soldier was shot in the ankle by enemy fire. These raids were carried out without Afghan assistance. Defense officials told the WSJ that now that the Taliban is mostly gone, Afghans are more interested in hunting down rival leaders than in finding Taliban remnants. Consequently, the Americans may no longer have as many local spotters and trackers to work with, and they have to worry about factional fighting in addition to al-Qaida/Taliban bullets.

The top story in the WSJ's business news box is also fronted by the WP:Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan sounds optimistic about an economic turnaround—at least more so than he did two weeks ago. The Journal can tell, because Greenspan gave an economic overview to the Senate Budget Committee that mirrored, verbatim at times, the assessment he gave in a speech several days ago, only this time around Greenspan left out phrases that analysts had taken to mean his outlook was bearish. The WP reports that Greenspan doesn't believe the economy will need legislation to give it a short-term boost.

The papers all cover an unplanned school trip, which came courtesy of a Pennsylvania bus driver who decided to take the kids on his bus to the White House instead of to school. He got lost, despite having asked the kids for help orienting with a road map, and turned himself in 150 miles from home. None of the children was harmed or even especially shaken by the incident according to police.