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The Situation: Thursday, August 18

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 3 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

Justice Dept. funds programs to combat underage drinking







Bob Taft

Posted 6:15 p.m ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN America Bureau

The Justice Department is providing $350,000 to all fifty states and the District of Columbia to help enforce state and local underage drinking laws.

The Office of Justice Programs said the $20 million total includes an additional million to California, Oregon and Washington states to combat underage consumption of alcohol by minors in rural areas.

A top Justice Department official, Assistant Attorney General Regina Schofield, said the initiative is designed to combat the "serious consequences that can follow" from underage drinking. "These awards fund initiatives to limit youth access to alcoholic, strictly enforce underage drinking laws, and promote zero tolerance for underage drinking while creating positive outlets for our youth," Schofield said.

More than 900 law enforcement officials, community members, and youth advocates are scheduled to meet in Tucson, Arizona, August 18-20 to examine ways to combat underage drinking.

Former newspaper publisher indicted on federal fraud charges

Posted 6:15 p.m. ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN America Bureau

David Radler, former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, was indicted on federal fraud charges Thursday for allegedly cheating shareholders by diverting more than $32 million from the newspaper holding company, the Justice Department announced.

Radler was charged along with Mark Kipnis, the top in-house lawyer for the Sun-Times parent company Hollinger International. The Ravelston Corporation Limited, a privately-held Canadian company that controlled Hollinger's global publishing, empire was also indicted.

All three defendants were charged with five counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud for an alleged scheme to cheat shareholders in both the U.S. and Canada.

The announcement was made in Chicago by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and released by the Justice Department in Washington. "The defendants allegedly engaged in a series of secret transactions in connection with selling various newspaper publishing groups in the United States, that were designed to enrich certain corporate officers by funneling payments disguised as non-competition fees to a company they controlled, as well as to themselves individually at the expense of Hollinger's public shareholders and corporate assets," the Justice Department said.

State Dept. memo warned of 'serious planning gaps' for post-war Iraq

Posted 3:18 p.m. ET
From Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott, CNN State Department Unit

Little more than a month before the start of the Iraq war, State Department officials said they warned U.S. military planners about possible "serious planning gaps" for the post-war period, according to newly declassified documents obtained by George Washington University.

In a memo dated Feb. 7, 2003, three senior department officials -- noting the U.S. Central Command's focus on military objectives and reluctance to take on policing roles -- warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally." The officials said they had "raised these issues with top CENTCOM officials" and offered to provide technical assistance to help the military "develop plans for accomplishing these goals."

The memo was obtained by GWU's National Security Archive under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Bush Administration is calling the documents old news, and is insisting enough post-war planning took place.

Administration announces backing for legislation to combat meth abuse

Posted 2:34 p.m. ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN Washington Bureau

Top Bush Administration officials Thursday called for federal restrictions on the sale of pseudophedrine and unveiled other proposals designed to help authorities combat the growing scourge of methamphetamine, they now view as "the most dangerous drug in America." Pseudopherine, a common ingredient in cold medications, is one ingredient used to make meth.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters traveled to Nashville where they disclosed details of the Bush Administration's strategy aimed at reducing the trafficking and abuse of methamphetamine.

The officials proposed federal legislation which includes imposing an individual purchase limit of 3.6 grams per transaction for retail sales of over the counter pseudoephedrine products. It would eliminate the "blister pack" exemption thus requiring all products containing pseudoephedrine to be subject to federal law regardless of how they are packaged.

Importers of pseudoephedrine would be required to get the approval of the Drug Enforcement Administration in some instances to prevent the diversion of the product for illegal use.

The Administration also announced 16.2 million dollars over three years for 11 new substance abuse grants, and funds for programs which assist meth-related child abuse.

The officials described their effort as "a comprehensive, balanced approach" dealing with prevention and treatment, law enforcement, supply reduction, and environtmental protection issues stemming from the use of "meth" by an estimated 1.5 million regular users, and thousands of meth-making labs now operating in all 50 states.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:15 a.m. ET
From John Mercurio, CNN Political Unit

Bob Taft, under par

More bad news today for GOPers in the nation's second-most-important purple state, where Bob Taft is tentatively scheduled to be in Franklin County Municipal Court at 11 a.m. EDT. The Ohio governor then plans to respond publicly to the charges against him. No resignation is expected, but fellow Republicans, nervous about '06, are calling for one.

Taft, 63, a member of a distinguished American political family, who has fired top aides for improperly accepting gifts, yesterday became the first Ohio governor to be charged with, well, improperly accepting gifts. He was charged with four first-degree misdemeanors for failing to report 52 gifts worth $5,800-- including golf outings, meals and professional hockey tickets -- between '01 and '04.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the gifts included two golfings worth $100 each paid for by embattled coin dealer Tom Noe, who has donated $22,190 to Taft's political campaigns, state records show.

If convicted, Taft could be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail on each count, though insiders said it was unlikely he would face time behind bars. Prosecutor Stephen McIntosh told the (Toledo) Blade that Taft is expected to reach a plea agreement.

Aides say Taft, is not planning to resign. But Democrats are already talking impeachment.

The state's constitution allows the legislature to impeach a governor for a misdemeanor. But to begin such proceedings, the state House needs a majority - or 50 votes out of 99. Sixty sitting House members are Republican, making such a scenario unlikely. The state Senate, which would conduct a trial, needs a two-thirds majority to convict, or 22 votes. The Senate is made up of 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Ohio law does not allow "recall" elections, as in California.

While Taft has his defenders, many top Republicans, nervous about how Taft is affecting the party's '06 prospects, are already jumping ship.

Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, one of the party's top '06 gubernatorial candidates, said he was "thoroughly disappointed with the governor's alleged inability to handle simple paperwork. It appears he is paying a price for it.''

"He set a high ethical standard for his administration, and in this case he failed to meet that standard," state Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "There is no excuse for this oversight."

Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Greg Hartmann, a Republican who's running for secretary of state next year, said Taft should resign if convicted.

Also, the Cincinnati Post, a reliably conservative newspaper, wrote in an editorial this morning that Taft has "brought this on himself by failing to abide by procedures that he himself has championed - and repeatedly enforced."

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:15 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

BAD NEWS FROM IRAQ WORRIES GOP CANDIDATES: A stream of bad news out of Iraq, echoed at home by polls that show growing impatience with the war and rising disapproval of President Bush's Iraq policies, is stirring political concern in Republican circles, party officials said Wednesday. Some said that the perception that the war was faltering was providing a rallying point for dispirited Democrats and could pose problems for Republicans in the Congressional elections next year. NY Times: Bad Iraq War News Worries Some in G.O.P. on '06external link

PLANNING PROBLEMS PROJECTED: One month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, three State Department bureau chiefs warned of "serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance" in a secret memorandum prepared for a superior. The Feb. 7, 2003, memo, addressed to Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary for democracy and global affairs, came at a time when the Pentagon was increasingly taking over control of post-invasion planning from the State Department. It reflected the growing tensions between State Department and Pentagon officials and their disparate assessments about the challenges looming in post-invasion Iraq. Washington Post: Prewar Memo Warned of Gaps in Iraq Plansexternal link

OHIO'S TAFT CHARGED: Gov. Bob Taft became the first Ohio governor charged with a crime Wednesday for allegedly failing to report 52 gifts worth $5,800 - including golf outings, meals and professional hockey tickets. State investigators lodged four first-degree misdemeanor ethics charges against the Cincinnati Republican. Each charge of filing a false financial-disclosure statement for the years 2001 through 2004 carries a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Taft is to appear in Franklin County Municipal Court this morning. Cincinnati Enquirer: Gov. Taft faces criminal chargesexternal link

LOTT RIPS FRIST IN NEW BOOK: In "Herding Cats, A Lifetime in Politics," Trent Lott writes that Sen. Bill Frist, his successor as majority leader, was one of the "main manipulators" in the events that resulted in his own loss of power. "Frist's actions amounted to a "personal betrayal," Lott writes. "I had taken him under my wing. ... He was my protege. ... We'd been friends off and on the floor, and that's pretty rare in a governmental body loaded with lone wolves and enormous egos." Yahoo! News: Lott Settles Scores with GOP in New Bookexternal link

KINKY WINS BIG: Kinky Friedman, the independent candidate for Texas governor, thinks he may be on a winning streak. The musician, author and humorist says he won $45,612 over the weekend playing a slot machine at Harrah's in New Orleans. On Wednesday, he showed news reporters a Harrah's photograph of himself at the winning machine. "It's a sign," said Friedman, who is hoping that his luck spills over into his budding political career. Yahoo! News: Texas Gov. Hopeful Friedman Wins at Casinoexternal link

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