The White House was involved in the decision to fire prosecutors.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 13 2007 5:44 AM

The Third Man

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with new information that reveals the White House was quite involved in the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys at the end of last year. It all started two years ago when former White House counsel Harriet Miers asked Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, about the possibility of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys when their terms expired. Sampson resigned yesterday. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the resignation of Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army's surgeon general who was the Walter Reed commander from 2002 to 2004. Kiley is the third senior official to lose his job after a WP series revealed the poor care many veterans received at Walter Reed.

USA Todayleads an interview with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus said coalition forces have detained approximately 700 members of the Mahdi Army. Some experts contend that the Mahdi Army could make a triumphant comeback if U.S. and Iraqi troops fail to stop the insurgents and Shiites see the militia as the only hope for security. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at the significance behind yesterday's announcement by New Century Financial Corp. that several of its creditors have cut off funding, which has led some to believe the company is close to bankruptcy. The types of mortgages provided by New Century Financial to people who couldn't previously get them fueled much of the housing boom. But now, as borrowers begin to default, some lenders are going out of business, and everyone is making mortgages more difficult to obtain. All that, combined with the likely increase of foreclosures, could lead to a steep decline in home prices.

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The idea of firing all the U.S. attorneys was immediately dismissed because it was determined that it would be too disruptive. Instead, Sampson started working on a smaller list of prosecutors that could be ousted, and Miers was updated throughout most of the decision-making process when several names went back and forth. At least a dozen U.S. attorneys were on a "target list" at some point. Until now, the White House had said it approved the list of fired prosecutors only after the Justice Department put it together.

In October, President Bush spoke with Gonzales and mentioned there were some complaints from Republicans that prosecutors weren't investigating issues relating to voter fraud. The White House insists Bush didn't say any specific prosecutors should be fired, and he may not have even known there was already a process underway to oust some of them.

The Post reveals that Sampson created a list that ranked all U.S. prosecutors. Only three of the eight prosecutors fired were given a low ranking. Two, including David Iglesias of New Mexico, were given strong evaluations. In fact, e-mails reveal that Iglesias was added to the list late in the process, due, at least in part, to complaints from Sen. Pete Domenici. After the firings, Miers' deputy wrote an e-mail saying that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam." And then a week later Sampson wrote that "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)." Officials at the Justice Department said they found out only recently about the extensive e-mail exchanges between Miers and Sampson.

Congressional Democrats have called on Karl Rove to testify about his role in the firings. The Post says the e-mails also illustrate how Rove was interested in having a former aide appointed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. In one e-mail, Sampson wrote: "[G]etting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc." The House judiciary committee has also called on Miers to testify. The White House and Justice Department are still saying the firings were appropriate and related to performance.

The NYT fronts a new poll that reveals Republicans aren't happy with the state of their party and don't really like any of the current candidates for president. Although many don't know much about the candidates, almost six in 10 said they want more choices. Forty percent of Republicans think a Democrat is going to win the presidential election.

The WP fronts a look at how some experts question the accuracy of the White House's often-repeated claim that "everything in Iraq changed" after the bombing of the golden dome shrine in Samarra last year. Some of these experts contend that the bombing merely confirmed the existence of an already ongoing civil war. McClatchy made many of the same points in January. Some believe that what actually changed after the Samarra bombing was the U.S. military perception of the situation in Iraq rather than the situation itself.

The NYT fronts a look at how alcohol and drugs were involved in more than a third of all military prosecutions of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in convictions. According to the paper, crimes that involved alcohol, which is forbidden by the American military in the two countries, have been increasing every year since 2004.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, said he supports the ban on gays serving openly in the military because "homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral."

In an op-ed piece in the NYT, Antonia Juhasz says the big winners of the Iraqi oil law that is currently under discussion would be the international oil companies. The law would allow companies to take control of much of Iraq's oil "for a generation or more," and there are no requirements for any of the earnings to be invested back into Iraq. Juhasz also suggests that companies could take advantage of the current violence in Iraq to sign contracts now when the "government is at its weakest and then wait at least two years before setting foot in the country."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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