Today's Papers

Death of a Weapons Inspector

The Washington Postleads with a report that President Bush and Condeleezza Rice didn’t read parts of the definitive assessment of U.S. intelligence on Iraq. According to an unnamed White House official, neither the president or Rice saw the State Department’s footnote warning that intelligence citing an Iraqi effort to purchase uranium from Niger was “highly dubious.” At the same time, in an unprecedented move, the White House released sections of the classified report to help boost their case that Iraq’s weapons program posed an imminent threat. The New York Timesleads with the prospect that the U.S. may be forced to seek a U.N. mandate to get other nations to contribute troops and money to the effort to rebuild Iraq. Russia announced yesterday that it would only send troops under a U.N. resolution, matching a similar statement from India earlier in the week. The paper reports an emotional debate within the administration between Secretary Powell and those willing to ask the U.N. for help, and Vice President Cheney and others who vehemently oppose such a move because it would be humiliating. The Los Angeles Timesleads with two major legal setbacks in efforts to delay the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. Yesterday a Sacramento judge ordered officials to keep a running count of signatures and a Los Angeles judge rejected legal maneuvers to slow the recall process. A vote on recall could come as soon as Sept. 30.

The papers note that the release of classified parts of the intelligence assessment and a new “oops … we must have missed a few pages of our homework” excuse seem to signal that the White House has re-evaluated its strategy in dealing with the uranium controversy. In coming days the White House may find out once and for all if pleading ignorance is indeed bliss.

The eight pages of the report that were released declare that “most” of the intelligence agencies believed Iraq was reconstituting its weapons program. (One would presume that these were among the pages Bush and Rice did in fact read.) The Post reports that the State Department’s objection to the uranium intelligence (the lost homework section) was not released in its entirety.

The  LAT fronts * a similar story about the released documents, but with a far different take. According to the paper, the excerpted sections show that the CIA and other agencies were far more concerned that Iraq would strike the U.S. with a terrorist attack during the build-up to war than the White House ever led the public to believe. The paper also passes along news reports that former Cheney adviser Mary Matalin has been called out of retirement to help shape the White House’s response to the uranium controversy. The White House denies that Matalin’s role has changed.

The WP fronts and the NYT reefers up top (with photo) the sudden death of a British weapons expert at the crux of a heated dispute over the veracity of British intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons capabilities. David Kelly had been missing since Thursday when he left for his early evening walk and never returned. According to the NYT, the police have termed his death a suicide. His wife was asked by the police not to discuss any details.

For much of the past week Kelly faced intense questioning before a British parliamentary committee investigating a report by the BBC that Tony Blair’s office had “sexed up” evidence of Iraq’s weapons capabilities. While a powerful communications director in Blair’s office fingered Kelly as the unnamed government source in the BBC report, the NYT reports that lawmakers insinuated through their aggressive questioning that Kelly was in fact being set-up as a “fall guy” by the communications director. Caught in the middle of the dispute, Kelly admitted to speaking with the BBC in the spring but claimed he was not the source of the BBC story in question.

While visibly shaken and stressed, Kelly’s wife denies that her husband appeared suicidal. The NYT reports that Kelly sent an e-mail to a reporter on Thursday saying that he was waiting “until the end of the week” to judge how his testimony had gone. In another e-mail sent to an associate shortly before he left on his walk, Kelly wrote that he was determined to work through the controversy and return to working in Iraq. The Post notes that all parties involved in the controversy, from the press to the government, have been criticized for his death.

The NYT fronts and the other papers stuff a statement by President Bush that the U.S. has agreed to reconsider bringing British and Australian citizens captured in Afghanistan before military tribunals. Exactly what “reconsidering” means remains unclear. The U.S. could allow the captives to go to their home countries for trial, or perhaps agree to try them on charges that wouldn’t carry the death penalty. The lawyer for the two Britons and Aussies in custody said President Bush’s statement “was great for them but totally unfair” to the other 676 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

The NYT fronts a story on the growing sense of excitement among Republican leaders in California. While most top Republicans have stayed out of the recall debate, now that a vote looks inevitable, they see an opening to win back the capitol and perhaps even reverse the Democratic grip on the state. In November the Democrats swept every statewide office for the first time in 120 years. The paper notes that Republicans are proceeding cautiously, fearing a backlash from Democrats that could hurt Bush’s chance of taking California in the 2004 election.

Meanwhile, as if the recall battle within their state wasn’t enough, two California congressmen decided to take it outside—to Washington. The LAT off-leads with a near-brawl in the U.S. House of Representatives started by Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) and Pete Stark (D-Hayward). In an argument stemming from the introduction of a Republican-sponsored pension-reform bill, members shrieked insults of “wimp” and “fruitcake” across the chamber before the Capitol police was summoned to break up the fracas.

The NYT off-leads with a report that the election of an openly gay bishop last month to the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire threatens to divide the Anglican Church. In an open letter, 24 conservative American bishops claimed that if the homosexual bishop is confirmed, they will break with the Episcopal Church USA and side with more conservative leaders in Africa, South America, and Asia.

The Post off-leads and both Times front the sexual assault charges filed against Lakers star Kobe Bryant, stemming from accusations that he sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado resort last month. Bryant admits to having had sexual relations with the woman but claims it was consensual. If convicted, Bryant could face a prison sentence of four years to life.

Correction, July 19: This column initially said that a front-page story in the July 19 Washington Post reported that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were more concerned about Iraq than the public knew and that Mary Matalin had begun shaping the White House’s response. The story actually appeared on the front page of the July 19 Los Angeles Times, and you can read it here. [ Return to the corrected sentence.]