Today's Papers

Commission with a Mission

Everybody leads with President Bush’s appointment of a bipartisan, seven-member commission to investigate intelligence that was used to justify the Iraq war. The panel will have until March 2005—long after the election—to submit its final report (read the text of the president’s executive order here).The Washington Post, alone among the papers, notes prominently in its lead (in the first sentence) that for the first time Friday, Bush conceded that initial calculations of Saddam Hussein’s weapons may have been wrong.

The commission will also examine the weapons programs of Iran and North Korea and intelligence on Libya and Afghanistan. It will be headed by Laurence Silberman, a senior appeals court judge, and Charles Robb, a former U.S. senator and Virginia governor (also the son-in-law of former President Johnson). It also includes a former deputy director of the CIA and Senator John McCain, R-Ariz. Two spots on the panel remain open. Washington insiders—even some in the White House—are criticizing a lack of experience in foreign affairs and intelligence among the group chosen, the selection appearing “to have been influenced more by a quest for political balance than for depth of knowledge,” says The New York Times. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, notes that Silberman is a controversial figure—among his eyebrow-raising actions is his vote in 1990 to reverse the conviction of Oliver North.

Considering the mounting questions over prewar intelligence, it seems odd that the Post would bury a hard-hitting story that reveals how Bush and his advisers ignored qualifiers included in the classified report on Iraq’s weapons that CIA director George Tenet defended Thursday, making some of their strongest statements before the crucial document was even completed.                 

The WP and LAT front yesterday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report that in January U.S. employers added fewer jobs than expected, and the jobless rate fell. The unemployment rate is now at 5.6 percent—the lowest level in more than two years. Everyone agrees the recovery is “short of a boom pace,” as the LAT says in its headline, but the NYT points out that the numbers are “murky enough” to make a case for nearly any political point.

The NYT and Post front news that 39 Moscow subway passengers died during the morning rush hour Friday when a bomb exploded in their train. (The LAT got it on the front page of its later editions on Friday.) There is no word yet on who planted the bomb, but President Vladimir Putin suggested it was related to attacks linked to the ongoing Chechnyan war.

Gen. Wesley Clark repeatedly clashed with Clinton officials over the handling of the Kosovo war, according to his official papers obtained by the Post. While Clark maintains that some under Clinton wanted to end the war because it conflicted with the launch of then-Vice President Gore’s presidential campaign, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger told the WP that Clark’s memory is fuzzy, calling some of his accounts “garbled hearsay that is just incorrect.”

The Treasury Department took the blame Friday for the release of classified information to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. The department had commenced its investigation a month ago after the publication of journalist Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty. O’Neill provided 19,000 pages of official notes to the author.

A Malaysian plant supplying parts that went toward the black market nuclear proliferation network that CIA Director Tenet said Thursday had closed is in fact very much open. “It’s business as usual,” a plant employee tells the NYT.

In campaign news, former presidential candidate Rep. Richard Gephardt * endorsed front-runner Senator John Kerry Friday.

President Bush is “chomping at the bit,” a Republican with close ties to the White House tells the WP to explain the commander-in-chief’s decision to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning. He is expected to chat with journalist Tim Russert about terrorism and the economy.

In an interview with the NYT, First Lady Laura Bush touches on everything from allegations that her husband skipped out on the end of National Guard duty (“obviously political”) to a constitutional ban on gay marriage (“I might have my own opinion, but I’m not going tell you.”) She reveals that the First Couple subscribe to the NYT, WP, USA Today, the Washington Times and the Dallas Morning News. No word yet on whether they faithfully read TP.

Correction, Feb. 8, 2004: An earlier version of this article referred to Richard Gephardt as a senator. Return to the corrected sentence.