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The Situation: Wednesday, August 24

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. NOTE: The Morning Grind will return Tuesday, September 6.

Political assassinations






John Roberts
Justice and Rights

Posted: 12:50 p.m. ET
Wolf Blitzer, CNN Washington Bureau

In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford issued an executive order entitled "Prohibition on Assassination." It stated the following: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

That followed revelations that the CIA, during an earlier era, had tried to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. A Senate committee, chaired by the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho, spelled out those details in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. The outrage of those disclosures forced President Ford's hand. That executive order has been reaffirmed by subsequent presidents.

Now, Pat Robertson says it's time to "take out" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a frequent irritant to the U.S. and a close ally of Castro's. The State Department quickly rejected Robertson's recommendation. So did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

On Wednesday, Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that he really didn't mean to call for Chavez's assassination. To take some out, he insists, could mean kidnapping or removing that person from power -- short of killing him.

But how firm is the U.S. prohibition against political assassination? Didn't the United States try to kill Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi in the 1980's after his forces were implicated in the killing of U.S. troops at a disco in Germany? Didn't the United States try to kill Saddam Hussein on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003? And what about the repeated attempts to kill Osama bin Laden? The answer from U.S. officials is this: Those attempts were authorized. Among other things, they say, during times of warfare, going after those leaders is OK -- since they are, after all, military commanders as well.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 8:10 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

GROUNDWORK FOR ISLAMIC DOMINATION? Some secular Iraqi leaders complained Tuesday that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women. The secular leaders said the draft, which was presented to the National Assembly on Monday, contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. NY Times: Secular Iraqis Say New Charter May Curb Rightsexternal link

HEEDING ANTI-WAR PROTESTERS' WISHES WOULD "WEAKEN" US: Stepping up their response Tuesday to an anti-war movement that has gained momentum in recent weeks, President Bush and his aides said that heeding the wishes of protesters to withdraw troops from Iraq would "weaken" the United States' broader efforts to combat terrorism. Bush made his remarks in a surprise appearance during a vacation day at an Idaho mountain resort. He argued that the views espoused by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a slain soldier and the founder of an anti-war encampment near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, did not represent the opinions of most of the military families he has met. Chicago Tribune: Hearing a drumbeat, Bush speaksexternal link

IDF COMPLETE HISTORIC EVACUATIONS: At 10 a.m., Israel Defense Forces Maj. Isaac Nachmani stepped briskly through the gates of Homesh, over broken glass and shattered roof tiles of an earlier altercation and into the final chapters of Israel's historic disengagement plan. Over the hill, smoke rose from the smoldering remains of tires set afire to stall the soldiers' approach to this West Bank settlement, one of four slated for evacuation after the removal of all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza evacuation had gone more smoothly than the military authorities had expected, and residents of two West Bank settlements left voluntarily. San Francisco Chronicle: Israeli soldiers complete mission -- and settlements are historyexternal link

US DENOUNCES "INNAPPROPRIATE" COMMENTS: The Bush administration and religious leaders on Tuesday condemned Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Robertson said the U.S. government "ought to go ahead" and assassinate the Venezuelan leader because "it's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Robertson's words "inappropriate." He said the U.S. government "does not share his view" and is not plotting to kill Chavez. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said assassinating a foreign leader "is against the law. Our department doesn't do that type of thing." USA Today: U.S. denounces assassination ideaexternal link

PREPARE FOR A GRILLING: The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman warned Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. yesterday to expect tough questions about the court's "judicial activism" and lack of respect for Congress. The comments mark the second time this month that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has signaled plans to use Roberts's confirmation hearing as a forum for sharply criticizing what Specter describes as the high court's tendency to denigrate Congress's thoroughness and wisdom in passing various laws. Specter's questions could present Roberts with the difficult choice of disagreeing with the committee chairman or rebuking justices he hopes will soon be his colleagues. The committee's hearing begins Sept. 6. Washington Post: Specter Hints at What Roberts Can Expectexternal link

DHS TO HELP ON AZ BORDER: The Department of Homeland Security, responding to a state of emergency declared last week by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano because of illegal immigration, says it wants to help Arizona combat alien smuggling, ease related prison overcrowding and train state police officers. "We are moving forward quickly and aggressively to fashion a comprehensive plan with real solutions," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the governor in a letter delivered Monday. He said the agency wants to "build a partnership with Arizona." Washington Times: Chertoff assures Arizona of help on borderexternal link

BRAC CLOSURES UNFAIRLY TARGET DC, WARNER SAYS: Virginia Sen. John W. Warner (R) said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a senior aide improperly manipulated the national base realignment plan announced earlier this year to compel the movement of more than 20,000 defense jobs away from the Washington area. Two years before the Pentagon revealed its base closing plan May 13, in a stream of memos and internal records, top department officials were saying that "thinning of headquarters in the National Capital Region remains a[n] objective," according to Warner. Washington Post: Warner: Defense Closures 'Rigged'external link

ARMSTRONG DENIES DOPING REPORTS: Faced with yet another report that he cheated his way to a Tour de France victory, Lance Armstrong responded Tuesday the same way he has since the doping whispers began during the first of his seven straight wins: "I never took performance enhancing drugs." In a four-page article headlined "The Armstrong Lie," the French sports daily L'Equipe printed copies of documents suggesting six urine samples he provided during his first championship in 1999 tested positive for the red blood cell-booster erythropoietin, or EPO. Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc said the report published Tuesday appeared "credible" and meticulously researched, adding that Armstrong must have a chance to rebut the claims. Armstrong denies '99 doping reportsexternal link

REMEMBER ALL THOSE "TERMINATING" SPECIAL INTERESTS SPEECHES? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is benefiting from millions of dollars raised by a network of tax-exempt groups without revealing that the money comes from major corporations with business before his office. The groups are run by Schwarzenegger's closest political allies, who also represent some of California's biggest interest groups. Unlike the governor's many campaign funds, the nonprofits are not required to disclose their contributors and can accept unlimited amounts. One group controlled by a powerful corporate consultant pays the $6,000-a-month rent on a Sacramento hotel suite used by the governor, who is a multimillionaire. Others have funded media events and political rallies featuring Schwarzenegger and helped pay for his foreign travel. LA Times: Nonprofits Cloak Donors to Governorexternal link

PATAKI CONSIDERS LEGAL ACTION: Gov. George Pataki refused Tuesday to rule out a civil suit against the New York Post for publishing transcripts of tape recordings of conversations involving him, his wife and top aides. "All that remains to be seen," he said. On Monday, a Pataki spokesman said publication of excerpts from the conversations was "unethical and potentially illegal," and Pataki called for a federal investigation. But on Tuesday, the governor and potential Republican presidential contender went further, while still refusing to comment on the tapes' contents. "There's a reason the law makes it illegal to record," he said. "There's a reason the law makes it illegal to publish them." Yahoo! News: N.Y. Gov. Won't Rule Out Suit Over Tapesexternal link

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