The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Timesall lead with the latest weapons inspector report, which as expected said Saddam had no nuclear, biological, or chemical programs, and hadn't for years. The report, by Charles Duelfer (who replaced David Kay), said the programs had been "essentially destroyed" after the first Gulf War, and capabilities to restart them had been "eroding" ever since. The report did conclude Saddam was working to undermine U.N. sanctions, which had become Swiss cheesy before 9/11, and wanted eventually to restart some of the programs. But it also found that he had no real plans to do so. USA Today fronts the report, but leads ... well ... leads with a few local election officials freaking out about the administration's vague warnings that al-Qaida wants to disrupt the elections. "It occurred to me that terrorists could get a double hit if they wanted to strike the election by taking out a school," said Linda Phillips, chief elections official in Tippecanoe County, Ind., who moved some polling places out of schools.
Even the notion that Saddam wanted the banned weapons again is a touch murky. The report came to that conclusion based on interviews with him. But as the Journal puts it, "Under interrogation, Mr. Hussein was at times evasive and never fully clarified his intentions."
As the WP fronts, the report also says Saddam bribed (via oil vouchers given at below-market prices) a long list of foreign officials—including Indonesia's former president, France's former interior minister, and the head of the U.N. oil-for-food program. The apparent goal was to buy support for dropping or driving around sanctions. The Post notices that while foreign officials were outed, the names of Americans were blacked out. (The administration cited privacy laws.)
President Bush didn't comment on the report. But a White House spokesperson said it's evidence that Saddam "was a threat we needed to take seriously." The Post also flags a memo the administration sent to Republicans: The "Talking Points on the Duelfer Report" said that it "provides extensive new documentation that Saddam Hussein was a threat to international peace and security, and was in violation of U.N. resolutions."
Flashback: "INSPECTOR'S REPORT TO DETAIL IRAQI PLANS TO UNDERMINE SANCTIONS AND PRODUCE ILLICIT ARMS"—Tuesday's NYT. (Hey, glass half full, right?)
The NYT and WP front President Bush lashing out against Sen. Kerry, whom he said supports a "strategy of retreat" and policies that would "weaken America." The speech had been billed as a "major address," so some cable stations carried it live. The Post puts the spitballs in context: "Many of Bush's charges were misleading." Readers get that seemingly important point right up in the 20th paragraph. And the Times never gets around to it.
Why didn't Bush make a major address and perhaps respond to the Bremer, Rumsfeld, and Duelfer hits? "Look, the decision's been made that the president just isn't going to get into an introspective mode of 'we could have done this better,' " one "administration official" told the NYT.
Sixteen Iraqi national guard recruits were killed when a suicide car bomber hit a training base west of Baghdad. So far as TP sees, only the LAT headlines it. The Post goes inside with a council of guerrilla groups in Fallujah agreeing on the general outlines of a peace deal: They will turn in their heavy weapons, kick out foreign jihadis and allow Iraqi troops in. In return, U.S. troops would stay out. The talks are with the Iraqi government. It's not clear what the U.S.'s position is.
In what the NYT calls an act of "pre-election largess," Senate and House negotiators have approved the $146 billion corporate tax cut. The Times says the bill will benefit hard-working average Americans, such as "General Electric, Exxon Mobil, electric utilities, movie producers and agricultural producers."
The WP and NYT front the Senate nearly unanimously passing an intel reform bill that hews closely to the 9/11 commission's recommendations. The only holdouts were two Democrats who said their coworkers were rushing the reforms for political purposes and weren't thinking them through. The House has a different version of the bill, which leaves out many of the panel's recommendations and is filled with unrelated provisions, including one that would allow the U.S. to deport people to countries where they will likely be tortured. A recent editorial in the Post looked at the political play going on there.
Most of the papersfront the House ethics committee again whapping Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Tex., actually twice: Once for seeming to link campaign donations to legislative action and once for improperly getting federal aviations officials to track down some Texas Democrats. As for punishment, the committee issued a letter saying DeLay had been a very bad boy. The WP notices: "Just as it did six days ago, the ethics committee released its report shortly before 9 p.m." Still, observers in the papers guess that DeLay will be seriously wounded if not knocked out of power.
The paper go inside with a top Israeli official saying the Gaza pullout is meant to put on "formaldehyde" the formation of a Palestinian state. "What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns," said the top adviser to Ariel Sharon. The State Dept. said it's seeking "clarification."