Today's Papers

Lies, Damned Lies, and False Responses

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post all lead with the last-second immunity deal reached between President Clinton and independent counsel Robert Ray. The NYT calls it “stunning” and runs a banner headline. Clinton admitted wrongdoing and agreed to surrender his law license for five years, pay a $25,000 fine to the Arkansas Bar Association, and not seek reimbursement for his legal fees in court. In return, Ray promised not to charge Clinton with perjury or obstruction regarding his testimony about Monica Lewinsky. A committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed not to seek to disbar him.

Ray wanted to make a deal before Clinton left office so George W. Bush would not have to struggle with the question of whether to pardon him. (President Ford lost credibility when he pardoned Nixon.) The key sentence from the Clinton statement: “I tried to walk a line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false.” But, insisted Clinton’s lawyer, the president did not knowingly lie and “can in conscience” say “he tried to avoid testifying falsely.”

The NYT and the WP front the Pentagon decision that the chain of command will share blame for the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, meaning that no military personnel will be singled out for punishment. A Navy investigation found that Commander Kirk Lippold failed to take prescribed security precautions, but investigators pointed out that even proper procedure would not have thwarted the attack and that Lippold took “heroic actions” to save his ship and his injured crew members.

The NYT and WP front the collapse of the Estrada government in the Philippines. President Joseph Estrada has been under fire since October, when he was accused of accepting millions in bribes. During impeachment proceedings that collapsed earlier this week, prosecutors showed that Estrada ran a huge criminal operation from the presidency, spreading illegal money around to false bank accounts and various friends and mistresses. Yesterday, nearly a million protesters gathered in the streets of Manila, and the Cabinet and the military abandoned Estrada and threw their support to his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Estrada has yet to leave the presidential palace, but he is expected to do so shortly.

An NYT front-pager claims that several Bush appointees strayed slightly from the party line during their confirmation hearings. The paper notes that such a lack of unity might particularly disturb Bush, who puts a premium on loyalty. John Ashcroft told the Senate he would not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, but Bush has said he would not rule out having his Justice Department argue for a change in the law. (The NYT mentions that Laura Bush also seems to disagree with her husband on this point, and the WP devotes an entire story to their differences.) Treasury Secretary-nominee Paul O’Neill seemed to indicate in his hearing that the Bush tax cut plan was not primarily intended to stimulate the economy, which flies in the face of recent pronouncements from the administration. Health and Human Services Secretary-nominee Tommy Thompson said he was willing to compromise on the unpopular prescription drug benefit plan Bush proposed, and the prospective education secretary, Rod Paige, said that vouchers were not a priority for him.

On the other hand, a WP front-pager reports that Bush will be sending education legislation (including provisions for vouchers) to Congress on Tuesday. The Bush bill will also prescribe penalties for failing schools and establish a program to guarantee that every child reads by third grade. The paper claims that such a far-reaching proposal only four days into his term shows that Bush plans to start aggressively, against the wishes of some Republicans who had urged him to aim for uncontroversial victories at first because of the way the race was decided. His schedule for the first week is also significantly busier than the schedule he kept as governor of Texas or as a candidate. Bush also has a meeting set to discuss campaign finance reform with Sen. John McCain, who promised to force the troublesome issue as soon as possible. According to “an aide,” Bush and McCain “aren’t all that far apart” on a campaign finance deal.

The NYT goes inside with a follow-up to news that the commander of the Marine V-22 Osprey squadron falsified maintenance records on the aircrafts. The Pentagon received an anonymous tip from a mechanic about the falsifications and raided the offices of the commander on Thursday. The commander was relieved of duty, and yesterday he said he lied to keep the embattled Osprey program afloat. The Osprey crashed twice last year (although the Marines insist that at least the second crash had nothing to do with misleading maintenance reports). The commander could face criminal charges.