What do the Justice Department e-mails really say about the U.S. attorney ousters?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 14 2007 6:35 AM

The Replacements

The New York Times leads and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (while the other papers  all front) with recently released e-mails from the Justice Department showing replacements for several of the recently ousted U.S. attorneys being discussed nearly a year before the firings took place. The Washington Post leads with reports that American troops responded to a suicide bombing with excessive force, killing 12 people, including 2 children. The Los Angeles Times leads with rising repeat drug offenses since the inception of a state law favoring treatment over incarceration for users.

An e-mail from former Alberto Gonzales staffer D. Kyle Sampson, sent last January, may blow holes in the White House's claim that most of last year's U.S. attorney firings went through with no specific replacements in mind … or at least that's what all the papers are saying. The e-mail names five of the attorneys who were later fired and mentions possible replacements. Justice staffers previously acknowledged favoring replacing Arkansas U.S. Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins III with Karl Rove staffer Timothy Griffin, but they claimed the other attorneys were removed without specific replacements lined up. None of the other four attorneys mentioned in the e-mail was replaced by a name on the list. Administration critics claim the e-mail shows the Justice Department planned to replace certain U.S. attorneys with department insiders. Sampson's defenders say that the e-mail is just an initial list of possible candidates, not preselected replacements. The documents also contain evidence that staffers kept track of attorneys' GOP bonafides, including tracking memberships in the Federalist Society. Perhaps most interestingly, the later e-mails give a rare window into how a modern White House spins a scandal, with aides discussing ever evolving rationales for the firings.

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In an incident the WP compares to last year's massacre in Haditha, Iraq, a platoon of Special Ops Marines traveling in Humvees continued firing for miles down the road after being attacked in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan last month. According to a report from Afghanistan's human rights council, the troops wounded 35 people and killed 12. After firing on an area around a suicide bombing attack, they then continuing to fire while heading down the road. The paper reports that the military is still getting its investigation of the incident off the ground.

California's controversial Proposition 36 mandates treatment for drug offenders, but fewer than 25 percent actually get treatment; now a new UCLA study shows that since the law took effect, users are more likely be rearrested. Before the law passed, 38 percent of offenders were arrested again within 30 months. Now more than 50 percent will be picked up again in the same time period.  Even those who finished the state's treatment program had a 40 percent chance of facing new charges within two and a half years. The article is part of a series the LAT has run on the measure, as supporters claim the program needs more money for treatment and opponents argue for bringing back stiffer penalties.

Iraq becomes yet more complicated in the WP's off-lead, as Sunni militia groups sever their ties to the group known as Al Qaida in Iraq. The paper reports that infighting sprung up between the groups, with militiamen being kidnapped or killed by Al Qaeda agents. The argument is over a matter of direction; the paper says many insurgents just want American troops to leave and feel Al Qaida's agenda goes too far. From the perspective of the American forces, the upside of this news is that without the support of the militias, Al Qaeda has less of a foothold in the region. The downside is that it's harder to persuade a factious insurgency to lay down their arms. In the meantime the paper notes that a Sunni extremist group called "the Islamic Army" has posted an open letter to Osama bin Laden on its Web site, asking him to pacify those who would kill in his name.

The NYT off-leads with news that New Jersey Gov. Jim Corzine is still in intensive care following a car crash Thursday evening. Doctors warn Corzine could still take a turn for the worse. Power has been temporarily passed to New Jersey Senate President Richard J. Codey.

Below the fold, the LAT says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has worked with conservative Democrats to keep the wings of her caucus pacified, while pushing what the paper deems a centrist agenda. The piece is unabashedly fluffy (her aides carry Sharpies so she can sign autographs!), but for all its puff, it does have a few worthwhile anecdotes about how Pelosi runs the House, even as it says precious little about what she's accomplishing.

Speaking of puffy weekend pieces, the NYT chimes in under the fold with a story on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 1969 class at Wellesley. It features plenty of people who knew Clinton 35 years ago speculating about what she might be like now. One subject even goes so far as to deem herself "Hillary-esque." On the plus side, one can never have enough goofy college pictures of famous people.

The V22 Osprey is riddled with design contradictions that will limit the $80 million aircraft's usefulness when it is finally deployed to Iraq this fall, says the NYT. For those late to the party, the Osprey is a sort of hybrid helicopter/jet designed as a transport craft for the Marines. The appeal is that it could land like a helicopter and escape quickly like a jet, giving rescue and evacuation missions more speed and flexibility. Unfortunately, the crafts appear to be unstable, as indicated by a number of fatal crashes during test flights. Supporters say the speedy hybrids will help save lives, but detractors say that their limited evasive maneuverability could end up endangering troops if the Osprey is fired upon. Most unfortunate tidbit: The craft's designers didn't see fit to install a bathroom or provide a place for Marines to deposit full "piddle packs."

Car keys could be a thing of the past, says the NYT.

The WP argues that the issue of congressional representation for the District of Columbia is gaining momentum. Unfortunately, the paper tries to illustrate that point by covering a concert that four people showed up to.

TheNYT points out that while World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz * probably did a bad thing when he promoted his "companion" to a cushy job, that doesn't mean his enemies haven't been patiently waiting for this day. Meanwhile, the WSJ has the details on a boneheaded Wolfowitz memo wherein he specifies the terms of said companion's raise.

Finally, Someone Besides Your Mother Can Appreciate Your Poetry …

The LAT reports a new trend in literature readings: "cringe nights," where authors read adolescent writings for comic effect.

Correction, April 15, 2007:This article originally misstated that Paul Wolfowitz was head of the WTO. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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