Bush says aides can be questioned with certain conditions, Democrats reject his offer.

Bush says aides can be questioned with certain conditions, Democrats reject his offer.

Bush says aides can be questioned with certain conditions, Democrats reject his offer.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 21 2007 5:13 AM

Standing By His Man

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with President Bush declaring he is ready for a showdown with Congress over the demands from Democrats that a few of his top aides testify about the U.S. attorneys controversy. While declaring his unwavering support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Bush said he would allow Congress to interview Karl Rove, former counsel Harriet Miers, and two other officials as long as the meetings take place behind closed doors, there are no transcripts, and they're not required to testify under oath. Democrats were quick to say thanks but no thanks as they vowed to continue with their plans to issue subpoenas.

USA Today fronts the U.S. attorneys scandal but leads with a look at how the plan to bulldoze the "rotting" houses that were ruined during Hurricane Katrina has slowed down this year. No one is quite sure how many more houses still have to be brought down but estimates range from 9,000 to 12,000.

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Bush acknowledged the Justice Department has provided "incomplete" answers relating to the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys but insisted there is no proof any White House staffers did "anything improper." The president also said the administration was providing "unprecedented" cooperation with Congress but emphasized "we will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition." Senate judiciary committee Chairman Patrick Leahy didn't need much time to think it over. "I don't accept this offer," Leahy said. Bush added that he would be willing to go to court to fight any subpoenas.

Experts believe a court battle is unlikely and that the issue will be solved in negotiations. The LAT points out that "openly defying a subpoena has little precedent." If subpoenas are issued and the White House aides refuse to cooperate, Congress could vote to find them in contempt. But making things just a tad weirder, the Justice Department would normally be in charge of prosecuting this kind of case. Congress could also use other tools at its disposal, such as withholding funds from an agency or refusing to approve any nominees.

The NYT points out that even if an interview isn't under oath, lying to Congress could still be a crime. But the WP notes aides would not face "the same level of criminal charges" if they're not under oath.

The Senate easily approved legislation yesterday that would strip the attorney general of the power to appoint U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.   

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Meanwhile, the No. 3 Republican in the House, Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, joined the chorus of criticism against Gonzales when he said that the attorney general's "ability to … lead the Justice Department is greatly compromised." Even though Bush unequivocally said that Gonzales has "support from me," Republicans aren't rushing to his defense. Why? The Post notes some are wary of defending Gonzales after Bush surprised them by firing Donald Rumsfeld shortly after he praised his former defense secretary. (As of Tuesday afternoon, Slate's Gonzo-Meter put the chances of Gonzales leaving at 55 percent.)

The papers spend some time going through some more of the 3,000 pages of e-mails that were released Monday night. The messages reveal Justice Department officials didn't realize how the firings would explode into a full-blown scandal. In early February, a top official suggested the worst was over, writing that "the issue has basically run its course." The Post notes the e-mails show the White House was "more involved than had been known" in dealing with the scandal. The LAT focuses on how the e-mails show that earlier this month senior Justice Department officials began preparing memos  with specific reasons why each prosecutor was fired. In the end, the Post says the newly released documents "shed little light on the Bush administration's motives for carrying out the firings in the way it did."

In an interesting Page One story, the NYT takes a look at figures from various sources and concludes that despite the embargo on aid to the Palesitnian Authority, more aid was given to Palestinians in 2006 than in 2005. Most of the money was given directly to individuals or organizations. Some are concerned Palestinians are becoming too dependent on aid.

USAT fronts word that in an attempt to prevent more attacks on helicopters in Iraq, the U.S. military has limited the airspace where pilots can fly. This strategy could be working as there have been no shootdowns since Feb. 21, but some believe it's only a matter of time before insurgents adapt to the changes.

Everybody reports that the Pentagon announced that Iraqi insurgents used two children as decoys during a suicide attack  Sunday. The children helped the vehicle pass a checkpoint, then the car was parked, the adults got out, and they set off the bomb with the children still inside. On Tuesday, two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb.

The papers note Al Gore will go to Capitol Hill today to testify about climate change. The NYT says that for Gore, "returning to Capitol Hill is akin to a recovering alcoholic returning to a neighborhood bar."

The NYT publishes an op-ed piece by David Iglesias, one of the fired U.S. attorneys, who writes that the recently released e-mails confirm "politics played a role in the ousters." Iglesias says this whole ordeal surprised him because U.S. attorneys "have a long history of being insulated from politics." In fact, John Ashcroft told Iglesias in 2001 that politics should play no part in his job. Iglesias says that to settle the issue he wants a "written retraction by the Justice Department setting the record straight regarding my performance."

Who needs Google? … The LAT notes Kevin Federline has started his own search site creatively called SearchWithKevin.com. Besides getting to look at multiple pictures of Federline, users can earn all sorts of Kevin-related prizes just by searching. What are you waiting for?

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