Today's Papers

Against the Wal

USA Today leads with and everybody else fronts the arrests of more than 250 illegal immigrants who worked as janitors for Wal-Mart. Federal agents yesterday raided more than 60 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states and searched the retail giant’s headquarters in Arkansas in what officials are describing as the largest immigration crackdown in years. The Washington Post leads with word from a “blistering” Senate Intelligence Committee report that takes CIA Director George Tenet and other intelligence officials to task for “overstating” the terror threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The New York Times leads with the Senate’s vote yesterday to ease the travel ban on Cuba. The move comes just two weeks after President Bush announced he would step up restrictions on travel to Cuba in hopes of putting pressure on Fidel Castro’s government. The Los Angeles Times leads (online, at least) with Day 2 of Gov.-Elect Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s visit to Sacramento, where he met yesterday with outgoing Gov. Gray Davis and described the state’s financial outlook as “disastrous.”

According to the NYT, yesterday’s raids came as a result of a four-year investigation into the use of illegal labor at Wal-Mart. The retail giant had battled similar claims as far back as 1998, when Pennsylvania investigators found that some Wal-Mart cleaning crews were being paid less than $2 a day sans health insurance, according to USAT. The latest charges came as a direct result of that investigation. “If an employer is continuing to use illegal workers over a period of several years, then you do see a pattern,” an official tells the LAT. “There was a common theme here: Wal-Mart cleaning crews.”

Federal officials, citing wiretaps, contend that some higher-ups at the discount chain knew that its stores were using undocumented workers. (USAT says the workers came from Eastern Europe, Central America, and Asia.) Yet Wal-Mart officials were quick to point out yesterday that the illegal workers worked not for them but for an outside contractor. The papers don’t name the cleaning company (or companies?) nor is there any indication that any arrests or subpoenas were delivered to those people. However, one thing is clear: Federal investigators do have an interesting sense of humor. The investigation, according to the LAT, has been known as “Operation Rollback,” a reference to one of the store’s key advertising slogans.

According to the WP, it’s not looking good for George Tenet and the prewar intelligence brain trust. Republican and Democratic sources tell the paper that Senate investigators looking into forecasts of Iraq’s capabilities and intentions have been “surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence and single source or disputed information used to write key intelligence documents.” One report in particular includes the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which specifically claimed that Baghdad had chemical and biological weapons. In a separate article inside the paper, a senior intelligence expert tells the WPthat the NIE report was  “hastily done” and “a cut and paste job.”

The Senate report, which one source tells the WP will be “harsher and better” than a similar inquiry in the House, looks to shift attention toward the intelligence community and away from White House officials who have been accused of exaggerating Saddam’s threat. And that comes much to the chagrin of Senate Democrats. They still want to know what President Bush and others knew in the months before the war and how intelligence affected their public statements—but it’s not clear if the committee has any jurisdiction to investigate that, the WP says. As a result, Republicans on the committee say the report is “95 percent done,” while the Dems say it’s not even close to being finished.

Another guy in the doghouse this morning is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The NYT fronts word that congressional Republicans are getting sick of Rummy’s “high-handedness and lack of respect.” The only problem: Virtually all this griping is sourced to unnamed Republicans, which prompts the question of whether Rumsfeld is truly in trouble with the people who really count in Washington, like President Bush. A “senior Republican congressional official” tells the paper that he’s concluded that Rumsfeld has become “a millstone around the president’s neck.” Another unnamed GOPer tells the paper that the White House thinks Rummy “went off the deep end” earlier this month when he publicly criticized National Security Adviser Condi Rice. Meanwhile, another unidentified Republican gripes that Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, have given off a “holier than thou” vibe.” “The worst thing that can happen in Washington is if you’re a Cabinet member, you think you’re bigger than the president,” one Republican says.

Everybody notes Rummy’s defense yesterday of his now-infamous Iraq memo, in which he warned of a “long, slow slog ahead” in Iraq. Appearing unannounced at a Pentagon press briefing, Rumsfeld defended his memo, contending it was not a shift in thinking. And then, in a very Clintonesque moment, he cited a litany of dictionary definitions of the word “slog.” “To hit or strike hard, to drive with blows, to assail violently,” he told reporters. “That’s precisely what the U.S. has been doing and intends to continue to do.”

In related word, a U.S. soldier and two Iraqis were killed yesterday in separate bombings north of Baghdad, according to the WP. That brings to 105 the number of American soldiers killed by hostile action since President Bush announced the end of major combat on May 1, according to the paper.

Meanwhile, senior Pentagon official yesterday declared one of the biggest threats to American troops in Iraq is the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam, the LAT reports. There’s no proof the group has been involved in recent attacks against U.S. troops, or whether the group is sophisticated enough to wage a major terrorist campaign. Yet U.S. troops have been assigned the task of breaking up the group before it can be a threat, the paper reports.

The papers note Iran’s disclosure yesterday of its nuclear efforts. The country says its not building an atomic bomb, but U.N. officials, who had ordered the country to fess up to its activities or else, say there are major gaps in the report, including information on where the country got some of its nuclear materials in the first place. Traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found by U.N. inspectors on equipment that could be used to build nuclear weapons near a plant outside Tehran. Iran says the components were already contaminated when they purchased the equipment off the black market, but the officials are skeptical of that argument, the LAT reports.

Everybody goes inside with word that the FBI has interviewed Karl Rove and several other White House advisers in its investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA undercover officer Valerie Plame. According to the NYT, no grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence in the case, and for now, all interviews have been voluntary.

Finally, the WP writes up what will likely be a hot gift item this holiday season among, um, someone, somewhere. The same company that created the talking President Bush doll has now designed a talking Ann Coulter doll. The $30 faux-Barbie sports long blond hair, a short miniskirt, and stilettos and, when you “press her button,” spouts 14 venomous quips, including “Liberals hate America; they hate flag wavers.”