Today's Papers

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

The Washington Post leads with an analysis of FEC filings showing that Democrats raised more money than Republicans  over the first six months of this year—the first time they’ve done so during an election year since 1992. The Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story details a grand jury investigation into whether Halliburton violated U.S. sanctions by operating in Iran back when Dick Cheney was still in charge. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the release of a Filipino hostage in Iraq  after Manila met militants’ demands by pulling its small contingent of troops from the country. USA Today and the New York Times lead with Microsoft’s announcement that it will offer its shareholders a one-time taste—at $3 a share—of its $56 billion hoard. The company, which owns Slate,also said it would double its dividends and buy back $30 billion of its own stock over four years. The WSJ says the moves may constitute the “largest corporate cash disbursement in history” (subscription required).

Despite its pro-Dem angle, the WP’s lead points out that Republicans are still ahead in terms of cash-on-hand and that the six-month comparison may be overblown because Bush did most of his fundraising in 2003. Meanwhile, as Sen. John Kerry prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in Boston, the NYT says that President Bush plans to a mount a “monthlong offensive,” combining attacks on the Democratic ticket with an effort to lay out a positive agenda for another four years. In Iowa yesterday, other papers note, Bush said he would make the country safer, and the WSJ reports that Bush’s domestic advisers are clamoring to preview new proposals in the run up to the Republican convention. “In my opinion, we’re in slightly better shape than I thought we would be now,” Matthew Dowd, Bush’s senior campaign strategist, told the Post.

Another election angle: The WSJ reports that Kerry is  spending significant time and money on Western states Al Gore ignored in 2000, chasing electoral votes that were siphoned away from the East after the 2000 census.

At issue in the Halliburton-Iran case—reported in yesterday’s WSJ—is whether a Cayman Islands subsidiary was sufficiently independent of its U.S. parent while it was doing business in Iran. According to the LAT, the investigation originated in the Treasury Department but Halliburton disclosed this week that it has since been turned over to the U.S. attorney in Houston. Such claims are only passed along after finding evidence of “serious and willful violations” of sanctions law, a “government official” told the LAT.

With his “is that a document in your pocket?” scandal only a day old, Sandy Berger decided to step down as a foreign policy adviser to John Kerry, according to the off-leads in the NYT and WP. Berger, who had been reviewing thousands of documents to prepare for his testimony before the 9/11 commission, is now the target of a criminal investigation for taking home copies of a highly classified critique of the government’s response to terror threats leading up to the millennium (written by former terror czar Dick Clarke, no less). Berger’s lawyer said he later returned most of the documents, but apparently discarded some. “I made an honest mistake. It’s one that I deeply regret,” Berger told reporters outside his office yesterday evening.

According to the NYT, Berger initially thought he could ride out the scandal. But by yesterday afternoon, when Republican attacks would not let up (Tom DeLay called Berger’s actions a “third-rate burglary” that threatened national security), the Kerry campaign thought otherwise, although it did not ask him to step down, according to a staffer cited anonymously in the WP.

USAT has the most detailed account, culled from “three government officials,” of what investigators believe Berger did. Apparently, he was alerted to missing documents after one of his visits to the National Archives last fall, and he “later returned some of the materials.” On subsequent visits, archives staffers “specially marked” the documents Berger reviewed to ensure their return. It was only when some of those marked documents also disappeared that the archives notified the authorities.

The papers agree that Sandy’s chance for a role in any Kerry administration is pretty much shot. The decision whether to file criminal charges, however, will turn on whether the removal was intentional. “That’s clearly a question at the center of all this,” an anonymous “law enforcement official” told the NYT. Less clear is whether the intentional removal of notes about the documents, which Berger admits doing, will be enough to nail him. The WP deserves kudos for clarifying that the removal of notes without submitting them to review by National Archives staff is a “violation of law.”

As the recent violence in Gaza (mostly) subsides, the NYT reports on the odd stalemate that has emerged between Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei, who claims he has resigned and is running only a caretaker government, and President Yasser Arafat, who says the resignation is not valid unless without his approval. As the two jockey for influence, the situation underscores what the Times calls “the elasticity of Palestinian law,” which does not make clear who is correct.

Also, the NYT more or less grants TP’s wish for a more in-depth look at the internal Palestinian politics that in the last week have cast militants from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, as opponents of corruption.

The NYT fronts a delicate agreement between Greece and the U.S. to allow Special Forces soldiers and other armed U.S. agents to help protect the Olympics. Because Greek law prohibits foreign agents from carrying weapons on its soil, the arrangements are still a little up in the air. “I am certain we are going to be able to carry our guns,” an American official told the Times. “I’m not sure what we’re going to own up to.”

Mo Moonie, Mo Problems … Only a few months after the initial reports, the WP has figured out that Sen. John Warner approved the use of a room in a Senate office building in March for a religious ceremony, attended by several members of Congress, in which Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon literally crowned himself as the messiah. “Emperors, kings and presidents … have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent,” Moon said in a long speech at the event. Warner’s office says it had no idea Moon was involved in the room request, but the WP shows that the person who asked for Warner’s approval has long been linked to Moon’s movement.