The Washington Post leads with word that President Bush has agreed to back an independent investigation into prewar intelligence that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of WMD—claims crucial to Bush’s case for war that have since proved dubious. The New York Times leads with—and the Los Angeles Times fronts—a preview of Bush’s $2.3 trillion budget he’ll unveil Monday that abandons some of the spending and tax proposals from previous years. The Los Angeles Times leads with new poll results showing Sen. John Kerry in the lead in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries.
The LAT fronts a more cautious version of the Post lead, saying the White House is studying whether to appoint a commission. Supporting an independent probe is an about-face for the administration, which had previously asserted that an examination should wait until the search for WMD was complete. The Post points out that, by supporting an inquiry, the White House will have more control in keeping the independent panel’s concentration on the CIA rather than Bush and Co.
Included in the budget: elimination of 64 government programs; a 7 percent increase for the military; a 10 percent increase for security from terror attacks; and an 11 percent increase for the FBI. Bush will not push for a Medicaid overhaul, an expansion of retirement savings, or tax incentives for energy production. A retreat from some policies of years past is expected to annoy Republicans, many of whom have been cranky recently after learning the new budget will have a deficit of $521 billion instead of $307 billion as initially predicted by the administration.
According to the LAT/CNN poll, in Missouri, the state with the most delegates up for grabs Tuesday, Kerry is leading with 37 percent of the vote, in comparison to 11 percent for Sen. John Edwards, 7 percent for Howard Dean, 6 percent for Sen. Joe Lieberman, and 6 percent for retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Kerry trails Edwards in South Carolina but leads narrowly in Arizona. The WP agrees that Kerry’s strong in all seven states holding primaries Tuesday, where he’s spent little money and time. Not to be left out of the front-page coverage of the front-runner, the NYT looks at his Vietnam experience and potentially risky call to “Bring it on.”
The papers offer their two cents on the sputtering Dean campaign. The NYT has pundits and Democratic insiders weighing in on his fall, with insightful gems like the one from a consultant noting that Dean “was sort of like the eBay candidate.” The Post story attempts to track where the money went, revealing the campaign was close to broke by the New Hampshire primary.
The Post and the NYT front—and the LAT stuffs—American orders to ground several European flights to the U.S. because of terrorist threats. But the papers can’t quite agree on which flights and how many are suspended: The LAT insists that seven were halted, while the NYT and WP say it was six. According to the NYT, American officials encouraged armed sky marshals to board the flights, but the airlines instead canceled them. Citing senior administration officials, the WP gets more specific, reporting that the intelligence indicates al-Qaida terrorists are seeking to release a chemical or biological agent on board, or bring a radiological device in cargo.
In a front-page analysis, the NYT re-examines Secretary of State Colin Powell’s dramatic testimony one year ago in front of the United Nations Security Council. After interviewing intelligence and Congressional officials, Iraqi scientists and others, the Times concludes that his case had little to stand on but “limited, fragmentary and mostly circumstantial evidence.” The claims of biological weapons were mostly based on shaky human intelligence; evidence that Iraq had re-started their chemical weapon production was limited; and Powell knew that intelligence sources were divided over whether a nuclear program was developing. Says a former senior intelligence official of the administration: “They would disregard or make fun of any contrary evidence. They forgot they were making mere guesses. … They would say we’re right and you’re wrong and it’s a matter of national security.”
The Post also looks at Powell’s speech, centering its gaze on his claim that unmanned aerial vehicles Iraq had developed could spread chemical or biological agents. U.S. inspectors have since learned that the UAVs were instead used to fly surveillance missions. The article reveals that Powell’s speech, originally drafted by the CIA, was subjected to major surgery by VP Dick Cheney’s office, a move that caused controversy between the CIA and White House.
Everybody mentions the latest carnage in Iraq: At least nine were killed by a car bomb outside a Mosul police station, with many more sustaining injuries. Also on Saturday, three U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb that struck their Humvee between Kirkuk and Tikrit. The Post and the LAT catch late word that others died in Baghdad late Saturday. The Post says at least six were killed by two blasts; the LAT reports that a mortar round or rocket killed five. The violence came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, which is the Feast of Sacrifice.
According to early-morning reports, suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Baghdad offices of two Kurdish political parties where hundreds were celebrating Id al-Adha. Many died.
The Pakistani government fired Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, from his job as a top advisor Saturday. He has come under suspicion lately for making millions of dollars from sales of nuclear secrets to Libya and Iran.
Contradicting reports from U.S. officials, interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that an American airstrike two weeks ago killed 10 civilians. The U.S. military had said that five Taliban militants and no civilians had died.
The Los Angeles Times runs an interview with former weapons inspector David Kay who last week, in an about-face, testified to a Senate panel last week that prewar WMD intelligence was “almost all wrong.” Among other tidbits, he reveals that his 180-degree shift was “no eureka moment;” he doesn’t “expect George Tenet to fall on his sword;” and, to what must be the delight of the Bush administration, he hopes to write a book—though, he contends, not a “kiss and tell.”