The Los Angeles Timesleads with an apparent exclusive: Investigators believe that nuke-building components destined for Libya were diverted and ended up ... who knows where. The components came courtesy of nukes factory wholesaler A.Q. Khan. The Washington Postleads with a now-looming showdown on the filibuster as the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee endorsed two of President Bush's most controversial judicial nominees. The New York Timesleads with yesterday's downing of a private copter in Iraq that carried 11 people, including six American defense contractors. Apparent video by insurgents shows a sole survivor from the crash, whom they executed. USA Today leads with the use of Ecstasy diving—use seems to be down by half since 2001—a trend the DEA (and USAT) attributes to ... post-9/11 security at airports.
As the Post says, Republicans "carefully chose" the judicial nominees to trigger the filibuster showdown: They are both women and one is African-American. Both had been nominated, and blocked, during the president's first term. They're also known for radically conservative views—one referred to local zoning laws as "thievery." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says if the Dems try to filibuster he'll move to change Senate rules—"going nuclear" in the vernacular—to disallow filibusters for court nominees. Democrats have said they'll essentially shut down the Senate should that happen. Slate writers have come out in support of the filibuster and against it.
The LAT also picks up the filibuster angle, but somehow the NYT doesn't see as it as a big deal.
Elsewhere in Iraq, two Marines were killed near Ramadi, and another three foreign contractors, including an American, were killed by a suicide car bomb on the road to the airport. One other contractor, from the same company as those who died in the helicopter, was killed by a roadside bomb near Ramadi. The Pentagon's chief spokesman acknowledged that "in the last week or two, there's been an uptick" in violence.
The papers are still trying to unravel the story behind the bodies being pulled from the Tigris. Iraq's new president has said they were Shiite victims of a recent hostage-taking. But everybody notes that bodies have been showing up for a couple months. The numbers have been increasing lately, something health officials in the Post attribute to a "spring thaw."
The LAT actually travels to the scene, concluding there's "evidence of an intermittent series of sectarian killings" that began in February. So, who is killing whom? Unclear. "Most of the bodies cannot be identified," said the local police commander. The LAT quotes some Sunnis complaining of kidnappings and notes that a prominent Sunni cleric was assassinated yesterday.
With President Bush telling the Senate to "put politics aside and confirm John Bolton," the NYT and WP both front Colin Powell chatting with some fence-sitting Republican senators and giving a less-than-rosy assessment of Bolton. The chatter was confirmed by a spokesman for Powell. He didn't explicitly call for Bolton's defeat, but Powell didn't have to, purportedly saying Bolton "had problems" with people who disagreed with him. The papers say most of the sources whispering to them insisted that Powell was just returning calls from the senators, but one "person familiar" with the discussion told the Times Powell reached out to Sen. Hagel.
The LAT fronts a different Bolton angle: The former U.S. ambassador to South Korea told the paper that Bolton fibbed to the Senate committee about a fire-breathing speech Bolton once gave on North Korea. Bolton had said the ambassador cleared and even praised the speech, a recollection the ambassador called a "gross exaggeration." As the LAT mentions, Newsweek first reported the allegations Wednesday.*
The NYT fronts internal NASA docs, leaked by peeved scientists, showing the agency has increased the amount of risk deemed acceptable to launch the space shuttle. One memo said the standards were lowered "because we cannot meet" the traditional requirements.
The Wall Street Journal mentions that House Speaker Dennis Hastert says he's now open to the idea of repealing the House's recently loosened ethics rules. "I do not rule it out," he said.
Everybody notes the Senate, as expected, confirming John Negroponte as the new intel czar. The vote was 98-2.
A short wire piece inside the Post cites a new study showing that nearly all glaciers in the Antarctic Peninsula have shrinkage issues. The temperature there has risen 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s.
The NYT goes inside with a preview of a GAO report that knocks coming administration reports on climate change, concluding that they seem to lack little things, such as congressionally mandated sections on how the change might, say, affect the environment.
*Correction, April 22, 2005: This article originally stated that a Los Angeles Times piece on new allegations against John Bolton did not credit Newsweek for first reporting the allegations. In fact, credit was given.