The New York Timesleads with word that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced some harsh criticism from approximately six U.S. attorneys at a private meeting in Chicago on Tuesday. The prosecutors told Gonzales that the events surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys had distracted their employees, decreased morale, and made them question whether their jobs were safe. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a sneak peek at the testimony D. Kyle Sampson, the attorney general’s former chief of staff, prepared for his congressional hearing today. Sampson will say it’s appropriate to dismiss U.S. attorneys who are not effective from “a political perspective.”
The Washington Postleads and the Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide newsbox with the increasing tensions between Democratic lawmakers and President Bush regarding a timeline for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. As the Senate continued to work on its war-spending bill, which is expected to come to a vote today, Bush vowed not to negotiate any sort of timetable. USA Todayleads with word that the Air Force has lost approximately 40 percent of its fleet of Predator unmanned aircraft. There is also a shortage of trained personnel to handle the increasing demand for the Predator’s surveillance services in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s meeting in Chicago was one of several Gonzales has held recently with U.S. attorneys across the country. Several of them criticized the way the Justice Department has handled the whole controversy and questioned Gonzales’ leadership. Justice Department officials say the whole point of the meetings is so U.S. attorneys can have an honest discussion.
In his prepared testimony, which the rest of the papers mention inside, Sampson will also say that the process to select the prosecutors to be fired “was not scientific nor was it extensively documented” but that none of the dismissals was for “improper reasons.” To Sampson, “the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is … largely artificial.”
Sen. Arlen Specter said Sampson’s highly anticipated remarks would probably “be the most interesting testimony we have heard” since Anita Hill. As the Post notes, his prepared statement sheds little light on the question of what Gonzales knew and when he knew it, but Sampson is planning to say that “a number of senior Justice Department officials” were in on the decision-making process. Everyone says that regardless of what his prepared remarks say, the juiciest bits will probably come during the questioning.
In anticipation of Sampson’s testimony, the Justice Department apologized for inaccuracies in a Feb. 23 letter it sent to Congress. That letter said Karl Rove did not play a role in the decision to appoint his former deputy as interim U.S. attorney in Arkansas. The acknowledgment came as the department released new documents showing that Sampson was the primary author of the letter, which was approved by the White House counsel. This, of course, raises new questions of whether the Justice Department and the White House worked together to mislead Congress.
The LAT and NYT also front the war of words between Democrats and Bush, who warned, “the American people will know who to hold responsible,” if there is a delay in funding for the troops. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Bush to “calm down with the threats.” The LAT points out that this back-and-forth could amount to the biggest fight between Congress and the White House in more than 10 years and will probably continue for a while. Officials at the Pentagon say funds for the troops will start to dry up in mid-April but since troops on the ground won’t be affected, some predict the issue might not be resolved until August. The Post says White House officials are preparing for the fight by studying the events in 1995 and 1996, when President Clinton was successful in blaming Republicans for shutting down the government.
The WP fronts and the WSJ goes high with the sectarian killings that once again brought Iraq’s civil war to the forefront. Two hours after two truck bombs killed at least 85 people in Tall Afar, a group of gunmen, including Shiite policemen, began going door-to-door and assassinated 70 Sunnis. The killings continued for several hours before the Iraqi army intervened and appeared to detain some police officers, although accounts differ on whether they were let go. The LAT says they were the deadliest revenge killings since October. Yesterday’s events once again raised concerns that the new security plan, with its heavy focus on Baghdad, is merely pushing the violence to other parts of the country.
Speaking of sectarian violence, there has been much talk of how Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi army has remained relatively quiet since the beginning of the new security plan. The Post goes inside with word that Sadr might be losing control over his militia as some are trying to “move in on his turf.” Although this has been touted as good news, some worry that it could make things harder for the U.S. military in the long run because it will have to deal with several groups rather than just one.
The NYT fronts news that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia condemned the “illegal foreign occupation” of Iraq at the opening of the Arab League meeting. (The Associated Press says the king called the occupation “illegitimate.”) He also said Arab countries need to unite so that foreign powers don’t end up determining the region’s future.
Everyone goes inside with the latest in the stand-off between Iran and Britain regarding the capture of 15 British sailors and marines. Yesterday, Britain froze all “bilateral business” with Iran. Iranian television broadcast images of some of the prisoners that showed the lone British woman saying the crew had trespassed into Iranian waters.
Shocker of the day … The Post talks to some residents and interns at Howard University Hospital, who reveal that (surprise!) Grey’s Anatomy is not an accurate depiction of their lives.