FDA proposes new conflict-of-interest rule; House panel authorizes subpoenas.

FDA proposes new conflict-of-interest rule; House panel authorizes subpoenas.

FDA proposes new conflict-of-interest rule; House panel authorizes subpoenas.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 22 2007 5:14 AM

Company Ties

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with the Food and Drug Administration announcing that it would forbid medical experts with financial ties to companies from voting on whether products by that manufacturer should be approved. Experts who receive more than $50,000 a year from a company or its competitors would be barred from participating in the advisory committees. Those who received less than that amount could still participate in the discussions but would not be allowed to vote.

The Washington Postleads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news that a House panel authorized five subpoenas that would require Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and three others to testify under oath about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The Senate judiciary committee is set to authorize a similar set of subpoenas today. USA Todayleads with a look at the way in which the House Democrats have added $3.7 billion for farmers to the war spending bill. The House will begin debating the bill today.

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The FDA has been facing increased criticism from those who say its experts are too close to the industry they are supposed to be regulating. These experts serve on advisory panels that are important to the FDA because the agency frequently follows their recommendations. But numerous safety problems, including the withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx, have made many question their independence. By proposing the new rules, which won't be final until the 60-day period for public comment ends, the FDA appears to be recognizing that the public is losing confidence in an agency that used to enjoy a positive image. Some are criticizing the new rule, particularly for allowing those with some financial ties to participate in the discussions.

Even though a House judiciary subcommittee approved the subpoenas, it did not issue them yet as lawmakers want to have negotiations with the White House first. But the move will clearly increase tensions with the administration, which has said it will allow aides to be interviewed by lawmakers but only if it's in private and not under oath. "If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn," President Bush's press secretary said Tuesday.

The Post helpfully goes through what could happen if the White House refuses to comply with the subpoenas. First, the judiciary committees would have to decide to issue citations for contempt of Congress. If the full House and Senate agree, Congress would ask the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia to seek indictments. But would a U.S. attorney go against the wishes of the president? No one really knows because it's never gotten that far. The WSJ points out that the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia previously served as counselor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The WSJ notes that previous administrations have compromised instead of risking a court decision on the limits of executive privilege. But the paper says "any court challenge … could be an uphill battle" for the Democrats, especially if they can't present clear evidence of a crime. The courts have mostly upheld the principle of executive privilege saying it's important so that presidents can be sure they're getting honest advice.

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USAT fronts an analysis of court records that shows three of the fired U.S. attorneys ranked in the top 10 for prosecutions and convictions out of all the 93 federal prosecutors. U.S. Attorneys Paul Charlton of Phoenix, Carol Lam of San Diego, and David Iglesias of New Mexico were able to get top spots in the rankings because of a large number of immigration cases. The Justice Department said the rankings don't really mean anything because certain states have bigger problems with immigration and drugs.

The Post fronts word from the lawyer at the Justice Department that led the lawsuit against tobacco companies a few years ago, who now says Bush's political appointees interfered  to weaken the government's case. Although investigations found no wrongdoing, the first lawyer involved in the case spoke publicly yesterday. Sharon Eubanks said she's concerned about the "overwhelming politicization" of the Justice Department, and is urging Congress to look beyond the fired U.S. attorneys in its investigation.

The NYT fronts Italian and Afghan officials confirming that an Italian journalist, who was held hostage for 15 days, was allowed to go free only after five Taliban prisoners were released. It seems to be the first time prisoners have been "openly exchanged for a hostage" during the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The move immediately brought condemnation from officials in several countries who worry that this exchange might serve as a precedent.

All the papers go inside with yesterday's fighting in Somalia that began when Ethiopian and government soldiers went into a neighborhood to disarm militants. Heavy fighting followed and at least 20 people were killed, according to the LAT. Then some government (and possibly Ethiopian) soldiers were mutilated, dragged through the streets, and set on fire. The scene was reminiscent of 1993, when Somalis dragged the bodies of Americans through the streets.

The LAT fronts word that News Corp. and NBC Universal are planning to announce that they are creating an online site to challenge YouTube.

Using the Viacom lawsuit against Google as a hook, the WSJ's Walter Mossberg says it is unacceptable that consumers have to guess whether what they're doing online violates copyright law. Mossberg argues that Congress needs to pass a new digital copyright law that would protect the average consumer and "draw a line between modest sharing of a few songs or video clips and the real piracy of mass distribution."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.