Today's Papers

Less Money, More Problems

The Los Angeles Timesleads with new figures that reveal there are more than 180,000 U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq. This new number is larger than previous estimates and shows there are more private contractors in Iraq than U.S. troops and civilian government employees. The majority of these contractors are Iraqis, but there are an estimated 21,000 Americans and 43,000 foreigners. Military contracting guru Peter Singer gives the quote of the day: “This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.”

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with a look at the new fund-raising numbers reported by Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani that illustrate how Republican presidential candidates are trailing the Democratic hopefuls. Romney received $14 million, which is a drop from the $20.5 million he received in the first quarter. But he was able to dig into his own pocket and add $6.5 million to the pot. For his part, Giuliani raised $17 million, including $2 million for the general election, which is an increase from the previous quarter, but, as the NYT notes, his fund-raising efforts were just getting started then.

The real number of private employees currently being paid by U.S. tax dollars in Iraq is probably even higher than the new figures indicate, as security contractors “were not fully counted in the survey,” says the LAT. It is still unclear exactly how many people have been hired to protect government officials and buildings, with estimates ranging from 6,000 to as many as 30,000. Military experts are particularly troubled by the lack of information on how many hired guns there are in Iraq. But the truth is that the overall contracting picture remains hazy at best as no one agency is tasked with keeping track of the numbers.

The differences in the presidential candidates’ fund raising illustrates how the Democratic base is fired up, while Republicans are demoralized, still unsure about their choices, and eagerly await Fred Thompson’s entrance into the race. The Post points out that Sen. Barack Obama received money from more people than the combined total for Romney, Giuliani, and Sen. John McCain. This trend is “a striking reversal of fortunes for Democratic presidential hopefuls, who have often labored with less money than their Republican counterparts,” notes the WP.

The NYT and LAT front follow-ups to the commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence and say that, as was mentioned briefly in yesterday’s Post, the reason Bush gave for striking down the prison sentence is at odds with the Justice Department’s strong advocacy of sentencing guidelines. The LAT takes a look at the numbers and says that the Justice Department “frequently has sought sentences that are long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby’s.” The average sentence for those found guilty of obstruction of justice was 70 months. Everyone mentions the case decided two weeks ago by the Supreme Court, who sided with the administration in maintaining a 33-month sentence in a case similar to Libby’s, even though the defendant argued for leniency based on his 25 years of service in the armed forces.

The NYT talks to legal experts who say that Bush may have inadvertently sparked a debate about sentencing guidelines, which wouldn’t have happened if he had simply chosen to pardon Libby. Many defense lawyers are likely to begin using Bush’s rationale for commutation in arguing cases across the country. “I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion’,” a professor tells the NYT.  In Slate, Harlan J. Protass makes a similar argument and says that although the tactic “probably won’t work” defense attorneys won’t be able to help themselves because “the administration’s inconsistency is so glaring.”

In other Libby news, all the papers note that Bush made it clear he could decide to issue a full pardon in the future. “I rule nothing in or nothing out,” he said. And while Bush said Monday that Libby would still be subject to probation, the federal judge who presided over the case put that into doubt yesterday. Judge Reggie Walton said the law “does not appear to contemplate” a period of supervised release for someone who has not served any time in prison and asked lawyers on both sides to advise him on how the issue should be handled.

The Post goes inside with news that the Justice Department would seek the death penalty if former soldier Steven Green is convicted of killing an Iraqi family and raping a 14-year-old girl. This would make it the first capital case to come out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

All the papers note that Iraq’s Cabinet approved one part of the much-talked about oil law that sets up a new government bureaucracy to manage the country’s resources. But the legislation is likely to face opposition in parliament and still doesn’t deal with the much more contentious issue of how oil profits will be distributed.

In the good news of the day, everyone goes inside with the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC corresponded who was kidnapped on March 12 in Gaza. Johnston was held longer than any other foreigner kidnapped in Gaza.

Meanwhile, another journalist found herself engulfed in a scandal yesterday. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that he and his wife were splitting up last month, Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas shared the news with her viewers. What she failed to mention, however, is “that she was the other woman,” says the LAT on Page One. Yesterday, Villaraigosa confirmed the affair after it was mentioned in Los Angeles’ Daily News. Although Salinas was removed from the political beat in August 2006, the LAT did a little sleuthing and “traced their relationship back at least 18 months.” Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute tells the paper that “there really is no question that this is unacceptable.” And, proving how ethics experts are out to ruin everybody’s fun, added: “You can’t sleep with your sources.”