Today's Papers

Turning Up the Heat

The New York Times, USA Today,and the Wall Street Journal’s newsboxlead with the increasing tensions between Democrats in Congress and the White House as FBI Director Robert Mueller raised new questions about previous testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Yesterday, Mueller contradicted Gonzales’ sworn testimony  by telling the House judiciary committee that there were sharp disagreements between the White House and senior members of the Justice Department over the warrantless surveillance program. Mueller’s statements came soon after Senate Democrats asked the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied to Congress.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Senate approving an amendment to the Homeland Security spending bill that would add $3 billion for border security. The bill later passed the Senate with a 89-4 vote. This puts President Bush in an “uncomfortable position of opposing a popular position” since he has vowed to veto the spending bill because it included more money than what he requested even before the border security measure was added. The Washington Postleads locally but off-leads the Mueller-Gonzales contradictions.

Earlier this week, Gonzales told lawmakers the late-night visit to an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft wasn’t about the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance program. He continued to insist that, just like he affirmed last year, there was no disagreement over the program within the administration. But yesterday, Mueller said the confrontation was  related to “an NSA program that has been much discussed.” The testimony immediately raised new questions about Gonzales’ previous statements before Congress, which Democrats had already accused of being less than candid.

As if that weren’t enough confrontation for one day, the Senate judiciary committee also issued subpoenas to Karl Rove and a presidential aide for testimony relating to the firings of U.S. attorneys. The White House quickly accused Congress of trying to create false scandals to gain political points, while Democrats insist their constitutional role is being undermined by the administration. USAT says this looming “constitutional showdown” could end up hurting both parties.

Meanwhile, in a short piece inside, the WP takes a look at the issue of the criminal-contempt citations against two close Bush aides, Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, and describes how Congress could choose to use a procedure called “inherent contempt.” This would allow either the House or Senate to “adjudicate a case against the executive branch or a private citizen” in a setting that would look much like a trial but wouldn’t require the cooperation of the Justice Department.

The NYT, LAT, and WSJ front yesterday’s stock market plunge, which amounted to the second worst day of the year for Wall Street. It was the clearest sign yet that the decline in the housing market could spill over to the rest of the economy, not only in the United States but also around the world. The WSJ emphasizes that the main lesson from yesterday is that investors are losing confidence in the overall market’s ability to get through the slowdown unscathed. “The preconditions for a shock are in place,” an economist tells the NYT.

The NYT fronts word that White House officials are getting increasingly frustrated at Saudi Arabia for its continued funding of Sunni groups in Iraq and what appears to be its deep skepticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. There are strong suspicions that Saudi Arabian officials are working to get rid of Maliki and impose a more Sunni-friendly government. Also adding to the frustration is the fact that a large proportion of the foreign fighters that go into Iraq each month are from Saudi Arabia.

In other Iraq news, the LAT goes inside with a dispatch from the country’s parliament, where no one seems to be in a real rush to get much done. Although U.S. officials have been pressing Iraqi lawmakers to get moving on some important legislation before the much-awaited September report, discussions are scarce during the parliamentary sessions, where simply reaching quorum can be considered progress.

With all of the investigations involving the White House, the NYT goes inside with a look at the “more than a dozen current and former lawmakers” who are being investigated by the FBI and Justice Department. In case you need a refresher course, the paper has a handy chart.

The WP fronts, while the LAT and NYT mention, the escalating fight between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton that was sparked by Sunday’s debate and is turning out to be the first major confrontation between the two top Democratic candidates. It all started with a question over whether the candidates would be willing to meet with leaders of countries such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Obama answered that he would, which Clinton said was “irresponsible and frankly naive” and showed how the junior senator from Illinois is not experienced enough to become president.

Obama pounced back and said Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq invasion was irresponsible and characterized his opponent’s position as “Bush-Cheney lite.” All of this back-and-forth could be seen as regular campaign fodder, but it’s a sign of the main themes that the candidates will be pushing in the coming months: Clinton’s experience vs. Obama’s outsider status.

Back to Gonzales … The NYT reports that Republican Sen. Arlen Specter managed to break two well-known “points of decorum” while traveling on Air Force One yesterday. Not only did Specter choose to talk to the reporters on the plane, but he also heavily criticized the attorney general. “Our hearing two days ago was devastating,” Specter said. “But so was the hearing before that, and so was the hearing before that.” Although Post columnist Eugene Robinson says “it’s way past bedtime for Gonzo,” he recognizes that the attorney general “has managed to do something no one else in Washington has managed in years: create a spirit of true bipartisanship.”