Today's Papers

House It Gonna Work?

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday’s revelation that the House-appointed “managers” of the impeachment case against President Clinton are leaning towards conducting a full-bore trial in the Senate, complete with the examination of witnesses. USA Today goes with the latest in a string of encouraging crime stories: the paper’s own survey of 1998 homicide statistics shows that the total number of murders in America’s ten largest cities is down 12 percent compared to 1997. (The LAT front reports that the Los Angeles murder rate has dropped 27 percent from last year, resulting in a 28-year low.) The New York Times leads with initial government data showing that most states are in compliance with the 1996 welfare reform requirement that 25 percent of recipients hold jobs or actively prepare to do so. The Times points out, however, that many states are not meeting the law’s required percentage of working two-parent welfare families and that the government statistics do not show whether welfare workers have found good jobs.

The WP and LAT leads, as well as a NYT front-pager, report that the House managers’ aggressive position puts them in conflict with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who just the day before had come out in favor of a quick timetable that would probably preclude hearing from most of the scandal’s key figures. And it is the Senate, the papers remind, which controls how an impeachment trial will proceed. The NYT reports that House managers and some House Republican aides said they were stunned and angered by Lott’s disinclination to call witnesses. One is quoted as calling it “a slap in the face of the House.”

The NYT says that all the House managers agree on the necessity of witnesses, whereas both the WP and LAT mention that one of their number holds they should be called only if absolutely necessary.

The WP off-lead breaks an exclusive: A little-known national security boutique firm called Vector, which went under last fall and whose president was a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is being investigated by several federal agencies. The company specialized in the highly secretive business of acquiring foreign weapons and radars for U.S. intelligence agencies, and the authorities are looking into irregularities surrounding some of its deals. Such as allegedly procuring missiles from North Korea that somehow never got into U.S. hands, and whose current whereabouts are unknown. Or, as part of a deal to procure Chinese missiles, supposedly giving Beijing sensitive technical information about the U.S. shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missile. This story has some familiar elements that could give it legs: phony paperwork to disguise weapons’ true destinations and colorful characters crossing back and forth between private deal-making and government-sanctioned covert operations. Can you say Iran-Contra?

The papers continue to cover the apparent threshold-crossing performance of e-commerce. The Wall Street Journal notes an obvious but unanticipated consequence: an upsurge in business for such non-netly concerns as the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and UPS.

Back to the impeachment witness-or-no-witnesses story for a beat. The Times is alone in observing that White House aides were “amused” by the GOP split on witnesses. The use of that word, in the absence of either direct or indirect quotations from aides, raises a host of issues: Were those aides really so unsophisticated as to reveal such a politically loaded emotion in front of a reporter? If so, then why aren’t we told what the aides said? If not, then shouldn’t the paper back down to “seemed amused?” Or to “were said to be amused by White House sources?” This is not trivial, because communicating White House amusement is likely to have adverse political consequences for President Clinton, and so it seems only fair to insist that the Times make it clear that it’s not being spun–or spinning.