Today's Papers

Citing Personnel Reasons

Everyone leads their final editions with what appears to be a classic late-Friday news dump: Bernard Kerik pulled the plug on his nomination to head Homeland Security last night, citing “personal reasons” that he later clarified were of an illegal nanny variety. “I personally apologize to you for not having focused on this earlier,” Kerik wrote President Bush in a letter the White House released. Later, Kerik released a statement in which he says he’d just discovered two days ago that a nanny under his employ may have been an illegal immigrant and that her payroll taxes had, uh, somehow gone unpaid.

The papers more or less swallow this two-day timeline, although the New York Times ominously notes that the nanny was sent packing to her unspecified home country two weeks ago, and the Washington Post says White House officials found it suspicious that Kerik was not aware of any potential problem. No word on whether they might have been aware.

In fact, the papers are shy about speculating that the nanny might be a smokescreen (as suggested by Slate’s Mickey Kaus), but everyone winkingly recaps the growing list of news accounts that have been dogging Kerik in recent days—from his questionable relationship to a company that produces Taser guns to his less-than-stellar stint supervising police training in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times cites recent a Newsweek profile that mentions how he bought the NYPD four $50,000 security doors that were too heavy to be installed and later became an adviser to the company that sold them. Last night, Newsweek also reported that it had unearthed an old arrest warrant for Kerik and faxed it to the White House just a couple hours before the withdrawal announcement.

Extra credit to the LAT for getting someone, albeit a lowly GOP Senate aide, to speculate candidly about the seemingly obvious cumulative effect of these charges: “It was probably a mounting list of potentially embarrassing issues, and they decided to cut their losses before it got worse,” the aide said. “Good timing too: late on a Friday night.”

In an about-face yesterday, the Pentagon asked the contractor that produces fully armored Humvees—known as “up-armored” Humvees—to boost its production by 100 per month to 550. The move comes after the company revealed Thursday, in response to statements by Donald Rumsfeld that production was at full capacity, that it had offered to boost output a month ago but received no word back from the Army. The NYT says that even yesterday morning the Army was insisting that what it needed was not more up-armored vehicles but more armor kits, which provide less protection but would allow the Humvees to be converted back into lighter vehicles after the war. (In an accompanying piece, the LAT provides some sobering anecdotal evidence of the effects of insufficient armor.)

The Post finally delivers something somewhat concrete about the secret spy-tech program that has had Democratic senators fuming in bizarrely oblique terms in recent days. The hubbub is over a classified stealth spy satellite code-named Misty whose projected cost has doubled to $9.5 billion in an overall intel budget of about $40 billion, according to “officials.” The satellite would apparently be a third-generation Misty, with a second-generation one, launched in 1999 according to a Russian space magazine, probably still in operation.

The NYT and WP both off-lead Sprint’s potential $34 billion acquisition of Nextel, a union that would yield the third largest wireless phone provider in the country and lead to three companies controlling some 74 percent of the U.S. cell phone service market. The NYT says that there is a chance that No. 2 player Verizon Wireless may try to buy Sprint instead. Or, the papers say, the whole deal might fall apart.

The WP fronts a long, laudable story on the hearings that Pentagon has been holding for Gitmo detainees since June’s Supreme Court decision ordering it to do so. Advocates for the prisoners, however, say the resemblance to real habeas corpus proceedings is purely cosmetic: Detainees don’t have lawyers present, and the Post, which reviewed more than 50 case files from the hearings, says the incarcerations are often upheld using classified evidence to which prisoners don’t have access. Moreover, many captives told the panels that their confessions had been coerced through torture (a practice whose legality Justice Department backed only last week). “I see now that the duress and mistreatment that I am incurring shall not stop until they get the result they want,” one prisoner told his tribunal.

Everyone notes that the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case  that could decide whether foreign nationals arrested for serious crimes in U.S. states have the right under international law to legal help from their native countries. The specific case in question is that of a Mexican national sentenced to death in Texas and the LAT is alone in noting that it could prove a delicate issue for Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s nominee for attorney general. As legal counsel to then-Gov. Bush, Gonzales opined that Texas had no obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a position he will likely have to revisit when the court hears the case in the spring.

In other SCOTUS news, the White House and Supreme Court announced yesterday that Chief Justice Rehnquist has agreed in a letter to administer the oath of office at President Bush’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

The LAT and NYT note that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s opposition presidential candidate, is back in Vienna to receive treatments for his mysterious and disfiguring ailments, which he reiterated were the result of poisoning: “The aim was to kill me.” Last week’s New Yorker has an excellent story (sadly, unavailable online) about the tainted runoff election there, noting the “curious fact,” that Yushchenko dined with the head of the Ukraine’s Security Service the night before he fell ill.

Meanwhile, the WP reports that Viktor Yanukovych is less than gracious in the face of possible defeat. Abandoned by his old patrons, he says that new election laws aimed at stopping fraud are in fact stacked against him. “I believed in those who betrayed me, those cowards,” he said yesterday. “I trusted these liars and traitors with whom I worked in the government.”