USA Today and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with follow-up on the apparent administration leak blowing a CIA agent's cover, both papers emphasizing increasing calls for the appointment of a special investigator because of the apparent conflict of interest in having the Justice Department investigate its bosses. The New York Times and Washington Post off-lead the leak and lead with new Census figures showing that the total number of people without health insurance rose by 2.4 million last year, the largest increase in a decade. The percentage of people without health care is now 15.2 percent, up from 14.6 percent in 2001 but below the recent peak of 16.3 percent in 1998. The Los Angeles Times leads with the California recall, emphasizing both that Arnold continues to gain momentum and that he picked up the endorsement of the state GOP's top dogs.
The WP headlines: "BUSH VOWS ACTION IF AIDES HAD ROLE IN LEAK." According to an unnamed "senior official" (a leaker?!?!), Bush said at a meeting yesterday, "I want to get to the bottom of this." He might want to remind some employees of that. Asked if the White House would be proactive and try to find out on its own who the potentially felonious leaker is, spokesman Scott McClellan said there are no plans to "play that game." Sunday's Post said a "senior administration official" confirmed that "two top White House officials" called journalists to out the CIA agent.
The WP notes inside that there have been "few, if any, prosecutions" for uncovering undercover agents. Prosecution of all types of leakers has "a long history of failure," said one analyst. Usually, he said, "all the roads end up leading back to the journalists, and there is an assumption that the journalists are not going to talk."
The LAT fronts and others go inside with the ambush of two American convoys yesterday that left one GI dead and two injured. One of the ambushes led to a roughly eight-hour gun battle. The details on the incident are still murky, but everybody agrees that after the surprisingly heavy guerrilla attack, the U.S. counter-attacked using air support and armor.
The LAT sees the most significance in the battle, suggesting that the U.S.'s use of overwhelming force is ultimately counterproductive: "The Americans start shooting randomly as soon as they are attacked," said one man in the area. "No matter how powerful they are, we have to get them out of here; we want to crush them underfoot." The article's online headline: "BATTLE IN IRAQ REFLECTS RESENTMENT OF U.S." The print version is straighter: "IRAQ BATTLE RAGES FOR EIGHT HOURS."
The NYT and WP both front word that an Iraqi Governing Council committee tasked with completing a plan for the creation of a constitution is deadlocked and is issuing a report today saying as much. As the Post emphasizes, the U.S.'s stated goal of drafting a constitution in six months doesn't look like it's going to happen. "It's unreasonable," one council member told the Post. "It takes more time than this—much more."
The NYT highlights the reasons for the delay: mistrust between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds with the latter two groups afraid that Shiites will end up dominating the political process and repressing the other groups. Shiites are pushing for a census to confirm their status as a majority and want an elected constitutional assembly. The other groups want an appointed assembly and no census. "Elections are supported by the Shiites and opposed by everyone else," said one committee member. According to the 25th paragraph in the Times piece, the U.S.'s current Iraqi political development plan "does not include elections for a constitutional assembly."
The Post notes inside that Pentagon auditors are investigating allegations that the Pentagon comptroller's office tried to hide $20 million from Congress by temporarily stashing the funds in the Special Forces command. As the WP mentions, the story was first broken by the St. Petersburg Times.
A NYT Page One piece profiles New Bridge Strategies, a new company that's been created, as the company's Web site explains it, "specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq." Their motto: "Helping to build a new Iraq." Wunderbar! But it's a bit hard to figure out what they're going to contribute. They're not electric grid specialists, oilmen, or telecom builders. These lobbyi... sorry, do-gooders, are mostly Bush buddies, headed by Bush's former campaign manager, who until March was head of FEMA. Be sure to check back soon with NBS's site, which promises a coming interactive map showing "areas of opportunity in the post-war rebuilding effort for specific industries."
NYT columnist Paul Krugman also sees signs of crony capitalism: "Even as the situation in Iraq slides downhill, and the Iraqi Governing Council demands more autonomy and control, American officials continue to block local initiatives, and are still trying to keep the big contracts in the hands of you-know-who."
Who's on first ... To get the best sense of what reporters really think of the administration's response to the leak charges, skip the (relatively speaking, polite) articles and go straight to the White House press gaggle. A brief snippet:
QUESTION: Why doesn't [President Bush] simply ask those—if, indeed, this is true—to come forward and ...
McCLELLAN: Ask who?
QUESTION: The President of the United States—
McCLELLAN: Ask who?
QUESTION: The limited number of people—
McCLELLAN: That's the Department of Justice, I just said, is the appropriate agency.
QUESTION: Why doesn't he ask them to come forward and hand in their resignations?
McCLELLAN: But who? I said that it's a serious matter, and anyone should be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.
QUESTION: —why doesn't he use everything in his power to smoke them out?
McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is looking into this. I've made it very clear the President believes the leaking of classified information of this nature is a very serious matter, and it should be pursued to the fullest.
QUESTION: And he has no—his hands are tied? He can't simply ask his staff?