Today's Papers

Reaming Reno

The Los Angeles Times lead applauds West Coast job growth. California’s unemployment rate hit a 30-year low of 4.6 percent last month. The New York Times leads with a report on violations of United Nations sanctions against Angolan rebels. Antwerp-based gem clearinghouses are flouting the two-year old embargo on diamond trading. The rebels are using their ill-gotten gains to buy weapons from Bulgaria. The Washington Post leads with the FBI’s release of an alleged torturer. Human rights activists are hopping mad that a Peruvian man detained under a 1992 anti-torture law was released because the State Department decided that his visa shielded him from DOJ prosecution while he was in the United States to testify before the Organization of American States. The ex-army official is accused of raping and beating a whistleblower.

Inside, the WP reveals George W.’s general-election battle plans. The Bush camp is determined to drive up Al Gore’s negatives before the Democrats get a chance to “define” Bush. Bush strategists shared opposition research on Gore’s vulnerabilities in a Thursday meeting with Republican National Committee officials. A campaign staffer who attended the session tells the Post that Bush backers will highlight Gore’s alleged exaggerations, from Love Story to Love Canal. The Bushies have already produced attack ads to hammer home their anti-Gore message.

The New York Times adds two scooplets to yesterday’s Los Angeles Times exclusive. The LAT obtained an internal Justice Department memo in which prosecutor Charles La Bella advised Attorney General Janet Reno to call for an independent counsel to investigate the 1996 campaign-finance scandal. The department investigated the temple fund-raising controversy and “exonerated” Gore in 1997. The NYT claims that Reno’s pro-independent counsel advisers “came closer to persuading her than was previously known, according to government officials.” La Bella, DOJ deputy Robert S. Litt, and FBI Director Louis Freeh urged Reno to ask for an independent inquiry into whether Gore lied when he told investigators that he did not recall soliciting hard money while dialing for dollars from the White House.

The paper also “recently obtained” a 1996 Justice Department letter “ordering” former Los Angeles Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen A. Mansfield to stop investigating Vice President Gore’s fund-raising visit to a California Buddhist retreat. Mansfield, who is now a partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, claims the DOJ ruined the investigation by yanking it from his desk.

The NYT does not mention what Today’s Papers discovered from a search of online FEC records: Stephen Mansfield donates generously and exclusively to Republican candidates. In 1998, he gave $750 to Republican Senate candidate Matt Fong. In 1999, he gave $1,000 to the presidential exploratory of Reno-critic Orrin Hatch.

A NYT editorial claims the new disclosures erase “[a]ny hope the Democrats may have had that their past finance scandals would fade in importance as an issue in this year’s presidential campaign.”

A WP front-pager reports that Republicans will attempt to get political mileage out of the rise in gas prices. George W. Bush supports rolling back the 4.3-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax hike that was enacted in 1993 thanks to Al Gore’s tie-breaking vote. (The tax pays for road repair and construction.) GOP leaders will argue that the “Gore gas tax” punishes consumers. Senate Republicans are pushing legislation to boost oil production, by repealing a ban on drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge.

In a front-page NYT interview, John McCain vows not to be bullied into quickly backing Bush. McCain suggests he will attempt to parlay his primary wins into increased influence over the Senate’s legislative agenda. He hints that Bush’s Senate supporters should soften their opposition to campaign-finance reform. The maverick Arizonan contends that the Republicans will lose the general election unless they embrace “a credible reform platform.”

The NYT reports that a 1968 movie inspired Vladimir Putin, Russia’s acting president, to become a KGB agent. The Post claims it was a Soviet novel that stoked Putin’s adolescent espionage aspirations. The film/book heroically portrayed a double agent’s adventures in Nazi Germany. Putin joined the KGB after college, worked undercover at Leningrad State University, and served in East Germany until the fall of Berlin Wall.

Today’s Papers wonders whether WP reader Sharon Hill intended to perpetuate the Katie Couric colonoscopy joke-a-thon with her letter to the editor. Couric broadcast her colon exam on the Today show to raise awareness about colon cancer. Hill’s letter objects to a Post writer’s: “critical and disparaging remarks about Couric’s ‘unphotogenic’ colon and her ability to remain chatty even with ‘a black tube going up her large intestine and a nice big shot of Demerol.’ “