White House picks a new war czar.

White House picks a new war czar.

White House picks a new war czar.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 16 2007 5:51 AM

Movin' In

The Washington Postleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the announcement that, after a long search, the White House has picked Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute to be the new "war czar" who will oversee the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lute, who is currently the chief operations officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was initially skeptical of sending more troops to Iraq. The New York Times leads, and everyone else fronts, yesterday's dramatic congressional testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who recounted the efforts by administration officials to reauthorize the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping program in early 2004. The general story of the conflict between the White House and the Justice Department over the program was already known, but Comey added lots of new details, including President Bush's role in averting a mass resignation of several top officials.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with new statistics that show food prices in Southern California increased 5.7 percent compared to last year. Nationally, food prices rose 3.9 percent and an economist tells the paper that "grocery store prices show one of the most rapid increases in the last 15 years or so." USA Todayleads with word that Iraq's government wants to create a new intelligence agency to rival the U.S.-backed organization that is led by a Sunni. The paper notes some are concerned an intelligence organization run by Shiites could downplay Iran's role in Iraq. Last month, the LAT said a secret service run by Shiites had already been established with approximately 1,200 intelligence agents. 

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Lute would have the rank of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser. He will hold on to his active military status, which means the Senate must approve his new assignment. Lute would be the first administration official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan who reports directly to the president. Critics of the war brought out an interview where Lute argued for a decrease in the number of troops in Iraq. "You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq," he said. Lute was apparently skeptical of the troop buildup and emphasized that any military escalation had to be matched with strong political and economic components.

The full accounts of Comey's testimony are worth a read, because, as a WP editorial says, the story is "so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." (Slate's Dahlia Lithwick gives a good blow-by-blow rundown.) Here's the scene: In March 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft was recovering from gallbladder surgery, and Comey, as the acting attorney general, refused to sign a presidential order reauthorizing the eavesdropping program.

Then one night Comey raced to Ashcroft's bedside after he got word that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card Jr., then Bush's chief of staff, were going to go to the hospital. Card and Gonzales tried to get a very disoriented Ashcroft to sign the order, which he refused to do. The White House proceeded to reauthorize the program without Comey's approval. Several top officials, including Comey and Ashcroft, were ready to resign over the whole incident, but Bush agreed to make changes to the program so it would comply with the law. It's unclear what those changes were and whether the program continued operating without the approval of the Justice Department for a period of weeks.

Meanwhile, Gonzales continued to downplay his role in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year and proceeded to place much of the responsibility on his deputy, Paul McNulty, who announced his resignation on Monday.

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The WP fronts a look at how the White House has apparently changed its tactics on how to deal with embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. Administration officials signaled they'd be willing to replace him as long as the World Bank doesn't fire him. "All options are on the table," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

The NYT fronts word that Michael Baroody, the man Bush picked to be the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, will receive a $150,000 payment when he leaves his current employer, the National Association of Manufacturers. Since Baroody would have to regulate issues relating to the same companies for which he used to lobby, the payment is likely to increase criticism over his nomination.

Three days of clashes between Hamas and Fatah fighters in the Gaza Strip have left 27 people dead, reports the LAT. The NYT says the  fighting "suggests that the Palestinian unity government ... is something of a fiction."

Everyone fronts the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, whom USATcalls the "founding father of the religious right." He was 73 and died of congestive heart failure. From his humble beginnings as a Baptist preacher who started his own church with $1,000, Falwell became one of the most powerful, and divisive, religious figures in the country. He went on to build one of the country's first megachurches and founded Liberty University to train future generations of Christian leaders. While rallying against the moral decay of American society, Falwell is widely credited for turning the religious right into a powerful political voice, particularly with the founding of the Moral Majority in 1978. In an analysis piece inside, the WP says Falwell represented an old breed of evangelical leader that is no longer as influential since the movement has changed and become more politically savvy. (Slate's Timothy Noah says Fallwell "was a bigot, a reactionary, a liar, and a fool" and goes through some of the more controversial statements of his career.)

The WP looks into the efforts of four lawmakers to live on $21 worth of food for one week, which is the amount of food stamps the average recipient gets in federal assistance. With this gimmick, they're trying to call attention to the fact that $3 a day on food really doesn't get you much at the grocery aisles.

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