The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Washington Postlead with the House, in a surprise diss of the president, voting to tighten the FBI's ability to peek into library or bookstore records during terrorism investigations. Thirty-eight Republicans joined with Democrats in the tightening of the Patriot Act. President Bush has said before that he would veto such a change. The Justice Department recently released records showing they have never actually used the provision to peek at library records. The New York Timesleads with word that some career Justice Dept. lawyers involved in the tobacco trial objected to the decision by top DOJ officials to seriously scale back the penalties demanded from cigarette companies. USA Todayleads with and others front the autopsy report on Terri Schiavo confirming that the damage to her brain was indeed "irrecoverable"; her brain had shriveled to about half its normal size. The Los Angeles Timesleads with five big unions, representing about 40 percent of the AFL-CIO's membership, announcing the creation of their own federation. They promised also to stick with the AFL-CIO—at least for a couple of months. The dissident unions charge that the AFL-CIO is hidebound and recruiting-impaired.
The NYT bases its lead on a memo from two DOJ lawyers urging their political-appointee boss not to slash the penalties sought from cigarette companies: "We do not want politics to be perceived as the underlying motivation, and that is certainly a risk if we make adjustments in our remedies presentation that are not based on evidence." But as the Times mentions 15 paragraphs down, at least one other DOJ lawyer involved supported the lower penalties. Time magazine also talked to one "career Justice Department prosecutor involved in the case" who said the perception of an administration dive is "exactly wrong." And on Monday, the WSJ talked to some legal analysts who also said the feds made a reasonable move.
The doctors on Schiavo's autopsy also found no evidence she had an eating disorder or that she had been abused, as her parents had alleged. The autopsy, which concluded that the cause of her original heart attack was "undetermined," had been requested by Schiavo's parents. (The NYT and WP helpfully link to the report itself.)
A piece inside the NYT does a retrospective on some of the statements made by Republican leaders back during the Schiavo saga. Said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist regarding Schiavo's persistent vegetative state, "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office. She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli." According to the medical examiner who conducted autopsy, the "vision centers of her brain were dead."
About 50 Iraqis were killed in attacks across the country, including 23 soldiers, when an insurgent dressed in a military uniform blew himself up inside a base. The NYT notices that it's the second apparent insider job in a week. Iraqi troops also rescued two hostages, an Australian and an Iraqi, in the same house. There are contradictory reports about whether the soldiers had a tip (NYT) or just happened upon the men during a routine search ( LAT). The military also announced Thursday morning that five Marines had been killed by a roadside bomb in western Iraq.
The NYT hangs out with the military in the usually insurgent-dominated northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar and describes it as stuck in a "cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq": GIs sweep in, drive away insurgents, and then leave, at which point the insurgents return. After the military's first offensive in the city, about 500 GIs stayed to patrol the border region, which is twice the size of Connecticut. The military is now back in force—though they still don't have enough soldiers to patrol outlying hamlets.
"We have a finite number of troops," the executive officer of the unit now overseeing Tal Afar told the NYT. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country."
The manpower problem has contributed to what the top U.S. commander in Iraq has called the "the Pillsbury Doughboy idea"—push the insurgents away in one place and they rise in another. The quote comes from an extraordinary Knight Ridder story in which named U.S. commanders insisted that the solution in Iraq won't be military. "We can't kill them all," said one. "When I kill one I create three."
The NYT notices that the Republican head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, paid two lobbyists a bit of money ($15,000 in total) for CPB-related work but didn't tell his counterparts on the board. The CPB has long said it doesn't use hired lobbyists. Meanwhile, the whole thing was about a bill supported by local stations and opposed by the White House, and apparently Tomlinson.
The papers have a host of dark clouds for the White House. The Journal sees "Republican strains" emerging over Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, the Post mentions some Republicans looking for an "exit strategy" ... from the president's Social Security offensive. And the NYT says the other "exit strategy" meme is also gaining steam.