Problems with FBI's national security letters; Democrats unveil plans for Iraq.

Problems with FBI's national security letters; Democrats unveil plans for Iraq.

Problems with FBI's national security letters; Democrats unveil plans for Iraq.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 9 2007 5:34 AM

Error Prone

The Washington Post leads with a new report by the Justice Department's inspector general that found there are frequent errors in the way the FBI uses its powers to secretly obtain telephone, e-mail, and financial records without judicial approval. The audit of 293 "national security letters" found 22 possible "breaches" of internal regulations, and some of these could have involved breaking the law. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead, and the Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide newsbox, with Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate unveiling specific plans to get U.S. combat troops out of Iraq. "The proposals dramatically shift the debate on Capitol Hill from symbolic measures to concrete plans to bring troops home," says the LAT. But there are still many divisions among Democrats, and the White House threatened that President Bush would veto any attempts by Congress to manage the war.

USA Todayleads with a look at how 14 states say they may have to make cuts to the national program that helps provide insurance for children. The program has helped reduce the percentage of uninsured children but it is running out of money in several states. These aren't isolated problems. Unless the federal government increases the money available for the program, 35 states "could face shortfalls" by 2012.   

Advertisement

Although the errors were not thought to be deliberate, they do seem to show that the program to issue national security letters suffers from a lack of management, oversight, and a uniform reporting procedure. In 2001, the USA Patriot Act made it possible to issue requests for records without judicial oversight and, not surprisingly, the use of these letters increased exponentially. The NYT, which also fronts the story but has fewer details, says more than 20,000 letters are issued each year. Among other things, the inspector general found that FBI agents often failed to provide appropriate documentation to justify the issuing of letters, and then field offices frequently failed to report the letters to Washington. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was allegedly "incensed" when he learned of the findings.

The busy day on Capitol Hill began with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing that Democrats would seek to add their plans for troop withdrawal to the Iraq war funding bill. Most of the main details of this plan had already been published. Using the same benchmarks that Bush outlined in January, he has until July 1 to certify that progress has been made, or all combat troops would have to be out by the end of the year. If there is progress, troops would begin withdrawing by March 1, 2008, and all combat troops would have to be out by Aug. 31, 2008. (Troops could remain in other roles, such as training the Iraqi army.)

To sweeten the pot, and consequently make it more difficult to vote against the plan, Pelosi announced that Democrats would add more than $20 billion to the bill, a point the WSJ emphasizes. The extra money would go to such things as veterans' health care, Gulf Coast recovery, and even some money for the fight in Afghanistan (the WSJ has a good chart).  

Over on the Senate side, Democrats outlined a plan that has the "goal" of getting all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of March 2008. But the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate makes it more than likely that the proposal won't get anywhere.

Advertisement

"The significance of the new plans was as much political as it was legislative," says the NYT. As the LAT points out in an analysis piece inside, Bush has often been able to say that he's running a war while Democrats only criticize. But now "Democrats have staked out a specific position while the administration peers into the uncertain future with an open-ended commitment." The official unveiling also means the presidential candidates will be under pressure to specify whether they support the plans.

The Post and NYT front news that Gonzales told senators the administration would no longer oppose a change in the rule that allows the attorney general to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without congressional oversight. Gonzales also said he would allow the Senate judiciary committee to question five senior Justice Department officials as part of the investigations into the recent firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Everyone sees this change in attitude as a sign of just how much the administration has been hurt by allegations that the firings were politically motivated. Earlier yesterday, some Senate Republicans severely criticized Gonzales for the way he has handled the controversy.

Everybody goes inside with Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, emphasizing in his first news conference that troops that are part of the "surge" are likely to face a long stay in Iraq. He emphazised no decision has been made on timelines but troop levels would probably have to be maintained "certainly for some time well beyond the summer." Petraeus also left the door open to the possibility of asking for more troops in the future.

The NYT fronts a look at how the amount of compensation veterans get for disabilities often depends on where they live and whether they were on active duty or were members of the National Guard or the Reserve. These discrepancies are also evident in the amount of time veterans often have to wait before they actually receive the compensation.

Everyone publishes an Associated Press story that reveals Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted he was having an extramarital affair while he pursued the whole Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton issue. Gingrich admitted to the affair during an interview with James Dobson, but insisted he's not a hypocrite.

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