Everyone leads with embattled CIA Director George Tenet’s surprise resignation, effective July 11, once he’s completed a full seven years at his post. Tenet delivered his letter privately Wednesday night to President Bush, who told reporters about it yesterday morning as he left for Europe (where he is meeting this morning with the pope and will also try to rally support for his Iraq policy). Bush said Tenet was departing for “personal reasons.”
In an early (and widely quoted) version of its lead story, the New York Times called the way Bush announced his DCI’s resignation “almost bizarre.” The final edition sadly deletes that locution but adds more information: After delivering a press conference with the Australian PM in the Rose Garden, Bush apparently walked back into the Oval Office, where he mentioned the resignation to Cheney, Powell, Rice, and other senior advisers. A few minutes later, Bush re-emerged to make the public announcement before hopping in his chopper. The Los Angeles Times’ lead reports that Tenet met briefly with Chief of Staff Andrew Card on Wednesday evening before heading over to the residence to inform the president.
The papers’ stories traffic the predictable back-and-forth, with no one yet able to break through the clutter of what actually precipitated the resignation. Bush, Tenet, and Tenet’s friends all underlined the contention that it was, as the spymaster himself said in a tearful address at Langley later yesterday morning, “a personal decision and had only one basis in fact: the well-being of my wonderful family.” On the plane to Europe, a White House spokesman said there was no advance warning, and, no, the president didn’t encourage Tenet to, say, spend a little more time thinking about his family. Of course, that boilerplate didn’t silence Democratic skeptics like Sen. Bob Graham, who told the NYT, “I suspect there was some push out of the office.” A former Bush White House official tried to have it both ways in the Washington Post’s front-page analysis: “You have calls for accountability, that someone has to lose a job. In a sense, you have an easy way to have someone lose his job—he wants to quit.”
The papers all give some weight to the notion that Tenet was giving himself a pre-emptive spike, with the Senate Intelligence Committee about to slam him in its assessment of WMD intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. “It’s a very hard-hitting report,” Sen. Carl Levin, a member of the panel, told USA Today. “It’s highly critical of the CIA.” The WP’s lead says Tenet read the still-classified draft version of the report last week, commenting, “I’m not going to be chased out by a piece of paper.” But perhaps something happened over the weekend because a separate NYT story (briefly) mentions that Tenet had been preparing to meet with the Senate committee in a closed session for a final rebuttal of its findings, but abruptly cancelled the appearance earlier this week, citing prior commitments.
The papers all note, the LAT, WP, and NYT in separate stories, that Bush appointed John McLaughlin as the interim DCI. McLaughlin (nickname: Merlin) is a long-time analyst who has described himself as “the most anonymous” senior official in Washington.
The WP and LAT front pieces—and the NYT reefers a story—on today’s 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which hundreds or maybe thousands of demonstrators were killed. Of course, in China, it’s an eerily silent occasion. “CHINA HIDES DISSIDENTS FOR TIANANMEN ANNIVERSARY,” reads the NYT’s macabre headline. The LAT’s forlorn piece focuses on the iconic and unidentified man who, the day after the crackdown, stood in front of a column of tanks, holding only two shopping bags. But the WP delivers the most meat: Somehow, when the Post tracked down the seven student leaders from 1989 who still live in China, four of them actually agreed to be interviewed and described regretfully apolitical lives spent trading stock and opening chains of electronics stores. “Who wants to accept a government that gives you no hope and no freedom?” one man said. “But what can we do? What’s the next step? I don’t know.”
The WP and NYT report that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani gave Iraq’s newly named caretaker government a lukewarm endorsement, which, the Post notes, is far more than he ever gave the Governing Council. Although he demanded that the government prove its legitimacy by fighting for full sovereignty and control in the Security Council, he also said he hoped Allah would help the new administration.
The LAT fronts an exclusive: A military intelligence soldier gives his account of what happened last fall at Abu Ghraib. He claims other intelligence soldiers were involved but says that the torture had nothing to do with “softening up” prisoners for interrogation and that his supervisors had no idea what was going on.
An Army general said yesterday that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld specifically authorized four classified “intensive interrogation techniques” for use on two “high-value” prisoners at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay. He wouldn’t say what the techniques were, other than that they did not involve dogs and that Rumsfeld later decided to stop using one of them. The WP stuffs the announcement that two 19-year-old Marines pleaded guilty in mid-May to electrically shocking an Iraqi prisoner who had apparently been speaking loudly and throwing garbage outside his cell in Western Iraq. The case had been mentioned before, but only in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Marine Corps Times. And the NYT fronts word that the military’s Abu Ghraib investigation may be homing in on a central target: the head of the interrogation center at the prison. A potentially more newsworthy revelation, however, is that officers may have hidden some prisoners from the Red Cross during inspections last year. One interrogator told the Times that he’d heard senior prison officials say, “the Red Cross inspectors did not need to know about those Iraqi prisoners,” the paper writes.
The papers all note that OPEC decided to raise its production quotas in a bid to lower oil prices, which have hit nearly $40 a barrel. The Wall Street Journal laudably leads its story with the fact that the move is empty: OPEC is already pumping above its quota ceiling, and its members barely have the excess capacity to meet even seasonal variations in demand. The WP deserves credit for running a hype-deflating story that notes that today’s oil prices, when adjusted for inflation, are really only about half as high as they were in 1981.
The WP fronts a piece that represents another volley in the bureaucratic leak war over Ahmad Chalabi—and explains that some of the deep mistrust the CIA feels for him dates back to 1995. At that time, Chalabi allegedly leaked word of a (nonexistent) plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein to the Iranians. The U.S. discovered the leak by intercepting an Iranian intelligence cable, a revelation that led the CIA to question Chalabi’s motives. Inside, the WP picks up the Baltimore Sun’s Chalabi-related scoop: Although there were no U.S. government agents present for the Chalabi and INC busts a couple weeks ago, armed private contractors from DynCorp went along, directing Iraqi police where to go and what to seize.
AdviceCity … At yesterday’s Rose Garden news conference, just before dropping the Tenet bomb, President Bush fielded a question about why he met with lawyer Jim Sharp over the continuing investigation into Valerie Plame’s outing as a CIA agent: “In terms of whether or not I need advice from my counsel, this is a criminal matter, it’s a serious matter, I have met with an attorney to determine whether or not I need his advice,” he replied. “And if I deem I need his advice, I’ll probably hire him.”