The Los Angeles Timesleads with, the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and almost everyone else fronts yesterday’s congressional hearing about conditions at Walter Reed. There was plenty of emotional testimony and some apologies from senior commanders of the Army. The Washington Postleads with the latest plan for Iraq that is being pushed by senior House Democrats as they try to seek a compromise that can garner a wide base of support. Under the plan, Congress would mandate that President Bush must certify that all troops sent to the war zone meet the military’s standards of readiness. Bush could then waive the certification if it is in “the national interest.”
The New York Timesleads with a look at how President Bush’s trip to several Latin American countries this week will mark a change in the way Washington deals with the region as it moves to combat poverty and unemployment instead of focusing on economic agreements and drug trafficking. It’s an an area of the world the administration has largely ignored for the past six years and where anti-Americanism continues to grow. Most see the trip as a way to combat the growing power of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. USA Todayleads with word that the Department of Transportation is looking into issuing new restrictions on taking lithium batteries on passenger planes because they pose a fire hazard. The risks are being studied and there are no immediate plans to restrict the batteries from carry-on luggage, although it’s possible there will be new restrictions placed on checked items.
The first of what promises to be several hearings on military health care around the country was held in the auditorium at Walter Reed, and lawmakers heard firsthand accounts of the problems veterans have been forced to deal with at the medical center. Rep. Henry Waxman called the situation at Walter Reed “the tip of the iceberg of what is going on all around the country.” Lawmakers were largely skeptical of claims by officials that they weren’t aware of problems at the medical center after there had been numerous audits and reports on the topic. Army officials gave assurances that they are working to improve the situations. “I couldn’t be madder, and I couldn’t be more embarrassed and ashamed,” said the Army’s chief of staff.
As part of the new Democratic proposal, Bush would also have to set a date to begin withdrawing troops if the Iraqi government fails to meet the benchmarks that were outlined in early January. The plan would keep the president as the main person in charge of policy relating to the war but would allow Democrats some say in how it is carried out. Over on the Senate side, Democrats are currently drafting a proposal that would move troops in Iraq to a support role, and they plan to allow Republicans to offer their own plans. But as the Post bluntly points out at the end of the story: “[N]othing of consequence is likely to pass.”
As Congress gears up to hear testimony from six U.S. attorneys who were fired, the papers publish lots of new developments. The WP fronts news that Rep. Heather A. Wilson, R-N.M., admitted that she was the other lawmaker who contacted fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. In a statement, Wilson said she inquired about the slow pace of federal corruption cases but denied that she pressured him to speed up a corruption investigation involving Democrats. Also yesterday, the Senate ethics committee implied that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into Sen. Pete Domenici, the other lawmaker who admitted that he had contacted Iglesias.
Meanwhile, the papers mention that the Justice Department official who oversees federal prosecutors announced his resignation. Michael A. Battle said this was not related to the firings, although many aren’t so sure.
McClatchy says the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty contacted one of the fired U.S. attorneys and said that if any of the prosecutors who were dismissed continued to criticize the administration for its decision, previously undisclosed details of why they were fired would be released. The message was passed on to other fired U.S. attorneys, and at least one of them interpreted the comments as a threat. The Justice Department denies the call ever took place.
In an interview with the WSJ, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez defended the firings but admitted the Justice Department could have handled the situation “more smoothly.” Gonzalez denied the U.S. attorneys were fired because they failed to carry out certain prosecutions.
And if that’s not enough, the NYT fronts the former U.S. attorney in Maryland saying that he was forced out of his position in 2005 because of political pressure. Thomas M. DiBagio says his office received lots of pressure not to pursue an investigation involving associates of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.
The LAT is alone in fronting yesterday’s car bomb that hit a book market in Baghdad and killed 30 people. The paper also fronts a compelling first-person account by one of its former translators about his plight to escape Iraq and apply for asylum in Sweden.
All the papers mention that local officials said nine members of a family were killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan late Sunday. These deaths came hours after Afghan civilians were killed when U.S. troops opened fire on a busy road.
In an interesting “editor’s note,” the NYT reveals previously unpublished details surrounding a 2005 story by Kurt Eichenwald that described the way Justin Berry was sexually exploited on the Internet as a teenager. Eichenwald failed to tell his editors or readers that he had sent Berry a $2,000 check. After the two met, but before Eichenwald decided to write the story, he asked Berry to return the money. “The check should have been disclosed to editors and readers,” says the paper.*
*Correction, March 6, 2007: This piece originally stated that Eichenwald had asked Berry to return the money after he decided to write the story.