Today's Papers

White Housed

The New York Timesleads with, and Washington Postdevotes it top national news-spot to, the White House clamming up about Karl Rove’s now-confirmed role as one of the administration sources who blabbed about outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. The Los Angeles Timesfronts Rove but leads with the nation’s largest health insurance company, WellPoint, agreeing in a lawsuit settlement to adopt more patient-friendly definitions of “medical necessity” and to only demand cheaper treatments if they are as effective as more expensive ones. The company also agreed to pay doctors $180 million for what the docs contended was underpayment of procedures. The other papers don’t give the deal much attention and stick to it financial component. (Presumably they’re skeptical of the still nebulous nature of the other promises.) USA Todayleads with gas prices back at record levels. According to an AAA survey, the average price spiked nearly six cents a couple of nights ago, apparently on Hurricane Dennis fears.  

On Sunday, Newsweek published a two-year-old e-mailTime reporter Matthew Cooper sent his editor two describing Rove’s tips about Plame. (The NYT fingered Rove last week—but buried it.) Rove’s lawyer confirmed the e-mail, and reporters at yesterday’s press conference pounced. The Post calls it the “most aggressive questioning a White House briefing in recent memory“—with the roast getting particularly hot as spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say, well, anything.

“No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States,” said McClellan, who in a refrain he repeated 22 times, added, “I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation.”

As it happens, the White House commented on the case plenty before Rove’s role was known, insisting—or actually misleadingly suggesting in carefully constructed language—that Rove had nothing to do with the it. Back in the day, McClellan called the notion of Rove’s involvement “ridiculous,” adding, “That is not the way this White House operates.”

The Post offers a transcript of yesterday’s fun-filled press conference, complete with links to McClellan’s original weasely defenses of Rove. The WP’s Dana Milbank also does a play-by-play. (“You’re in a bad spot there, Scott,” offered one sympathetic reporter. “Have you consulted a personal attorney?” asked another.) The NYT also offers a helpful rundown of now inoperative statements from the White House statements on the case.

President Bush once promised he would fire anybody involved in the leak (of “classified information, he added, again, carefully). It was another angle McClellan was not interested in revisiting yesterday. As the LAT emphasizes, Democrats were: Rove should get canned, they said.

While the papers mostly focus on the political angle, what gets short shrift is this: It doesn’t so much look like Rove broke the law, which would entail knowingly outing an undercover agent. According to Cooper’s e-mail, Rove just mentioned that Plame worked for the CIA, but not that she was undercover. And contrary to the theory that has been essentially accepted as truth, Rove doesn’t seem to have been motivated by revenge but rather by a desire to discredit the work of Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson. Rove apparently tried to convince reporters that Wilson’s yellowcake fact-finding trip to Niger—which Wilson later wrote turned up nada—was less an investigative mission than a boondoggle set up by Wilson’s wife.

The NYT off-leads with unnamed investigators saying that the bombs used in the London attacks last week were top-grade and professionally assembled. “There seems to be a mastery of the method of doing explosions,” said one “European-based counter-terrorism” official. Relying again on unnamed sources, Saturday’s NYT stuck its neck out: “LONDON BOMBS SEEN AS CRUDE; DEATH TOLL RISES TO 49.”

The other papers have been cautious to draw conclusions from the investigation. But today the Wall Street Journal goes high with more tea leaves. Apparently, officials are particularly concerned about the possibility of follow-up attacks. They don’t have any intel that anything is coming. But the bombings mirrored the attacks in Madrid, where follow-up attacks were indeed planned. And the masterminds of the Madrid bombings are still thought to be running around.

The LAT offers a more measured take. Rather than highlighting some unnamed officials’ not-yet concrete conclusions, the paper emphasizes the opposite: Nobody seems to know squat. Or as the paper puts it, “concern is rising about the apparent lack of progress in the case.” But read far enough down and even that turns out to be a bit of a squishy conclusion: Because British law enforcement has a meticulous and discreet style, it could be that the silence masks progress as authorities conduct delicate surveillance or nail down leads. “Either they have nothing, or they have something good and have decided to keep it quiet for the moment,” a senior Italian police official said.

Everybody mentions that four foreign detainees escaped from the U.S.’s prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Nobody knows how that happened, given that the place is surrounded by walls, watchtowers, and minefields—not to mention being home to thousands of soldiers. It’s possible, even probable, that they’re still on the base which employs plenty of Afghans. The military also announced that it found the body of the final missing Navy SEAL in Afghanistan. Contrary to Taliban claims, the military said he wasn’t executed but died while fighting near his comrades.

As the papers mention inside, a dozen Iraqi soldiers and police were killed in attacks around the country. And the military also announced that two Marines were killed in attacks Sunday.

The Post notes that in a less-than-shocking development, the Senate is suddenly having second-thoughts about its plan to cut funding for mass-transit security.

Business as usual (with anonymous sources) … The NYT’s take on Rove relies on an SAO to, of course, give the real backstory:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House now says its official position is not to comment on the case while it is under investigation by a federal special prosecutor, said Mr. Rove had gone about his business as usual on Monday.