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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

'No collaborative relationship'

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A deadly car bomb in Baghdad this morning and the 9/11 commission's return to center stage offer fresh reasons to focus on Iraq today.

Another option is to talk about John Kerry's veep search. But that story is on the brink of lunacy.

Kerry -- who, CNN has learned, wants to keep his veep search top-secret -- met with Dick Gephardt for 90 minutes in the Capitol last night, according to The Associated Press. That's right, the Capitol, home to 100 senators, 435 House members and more reporters than we could begin to count. Our question: If Kerry planned to skip Senate votes, which he did, then why not hold this super-dooper "hush-hush" meeting somewhere more, uh, private?

Kerry plans to meet with campaign staff today before he leaves at 11:45 a.m. ET for Detroit.

Sources say Kerry also plans to meet soon with Bob Graham, which would make sense considering how well-scripted Graham was in a brief chat with the Grind last night. "That's an issue that Sen. Kerry will address at the appropriate time," Graham said before hanging up his cell phone, politely but firmly.

But back to rumor-free reporting: Iraqi officials this morning report that an SUV packed with artillery shells crashed into a crowd waiting to volunteer for the Iraqi military. At least 35 people were killed and some 138 others were wounded.

None of the 175 would-be recruits who were queued up inside the recruitment center was killed or injured in the attack, nor were any U.S. or Iraqi army members, according to an initial assessment from Col. Mike Murray of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, who was at the scene.

September 11 hearings

Today the 9/11 commission holds its second day of hearings this week, and its last public appearance, focusing on the details of U.S. military and aviation officials' response to the terror attacks. Testifying are Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as officials from NORAD and the FAA. The commission faces a July 26 deadline to issue its final report.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration's efforts to tie Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda (i.e. its main justification for the war) became a little trickier today, following the commission's declaration that it could find no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terrorist network. Contacts and communication? Perhaps. But specific cooperation that would lead one to reasonably conclude that Iraq was an ally of terror? Not necessarily.

We won't dwell on all the claims administration officials have made of a supposed connection. Just a few.

Bush said on February 8, 2003, that Iraq had provided al Qaeda with "chemical and biological weapons training" and had sent "bombmaking and document forgery experts" to work with the terrorists. He said on May 1, 2003, that liberating Iraq was a "crucial advance" in the war against terror because "we've removed an ally of al Qaeda" and "cut off a source of terrorist funding."

Cheney, who once described evidence of a link as "overwhelming," said in a speech on Monday that Saddam "had long-established ties with al Qaeda."

"The problem the administration has is that the predicates it laid down for the war have not played out," Warren Rudman, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire, who has extensive experience in assessing intelligence about terrorism, told The New York Times. "That could spell political trouble for the president, there's no question."

Scheduled events

Of course, Kerry, who today delivers his newly revamped economic speech to the Michigan AFL-CIO executive board at 2:20 p.m. ET, might have some trouble criticizing the administration on Iraq, having said last year that he believed Saddam "supported and harbored terrorist groups."

Kerry aides note, however, that the senator was explicitly referring to Hamas, and not al Qaeda, when he made those remarks.

(Kerry later today will attend a fund-raiser for Detroit Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, mother of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and then a money event for his own campaign).

Bush meets with his Cabinet at 10:05 a.m. ET, makes remarks to the National Federation of Independent Business at 1:15 p.m. and then travels to Spokane, Washington, for a fund-raiser for GOP Senate candidate George Nethercutt. He addresses the fund-raiser at 9:25 p.m. ET.

And tomorrow, John McCain re-joins the campaign trail. One week after reports surfaced that he had rebuffed Kerry's overtures to become his running mate, McCain will introduce Bush, we hear, at a campaign stop in Reno.

Laura Bush starts a two-day campaign jaunt, traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota. Mrs. Bush is to attend "Bush-Cheney '04" rallies in each state, starting at 4 p.m. in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, followed by an appearance at 6:15 p.m. in Philadelphia.

In a direct challenge to federal limits on political advocacy, the National Rifle Association plans to begin broadcasting a live, three-hour daily radio program today to provide news and pro-gun commentary to 400,000 listeners.

The group says its jump into broadcasting with its program, "NRANews," airing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET, means that it should be viewed as a media organization that does not have to abide by provisions of a sweeping campaign finance law from 2002. That law stops organizations from using unregulated "soft" money to buy political advertising that directly attacks or praises federal candidates in the weeks before federal elections and primaries.


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