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The Situation: Wednesday, September 7

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.

FBI Director touring bureau facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi

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Hurricane Katrina

Posted 6:42 p.m. ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN America Bureau

FBI Director Robert Mueller, who last week dispatched hundreds of agents from around the country to help the stricken Gulf Coast, received a first-hand look at the damage and the bureau's efforts to help restore order and back local law enforcement efforts. Mueller made his unannounced visits to the damaged FBI facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi Wednesday, and to the temporary operating bases where agents are establishing communications and coordination to aide in the recovery efforts.

Several hundred agents, including SWAT teams of sharpshooters and tactical units, have been deployed in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast in a low profile presence designed to be seen as strictly a supporting role to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The FBI has been tight-lipped about its post-hurricane activities, and only reluctantly acknowledged Mueller's visit after he had arrived there. One of the urgent early missions for FBI agents was to secure and protect the FBI facilities in the region. The FBI field office near Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans, which served as the main bureau facility in Louisiana, suffered limited first floor flood damage, but officials said the contents including computers, files, records and weapons were not damaged. Most of the agents in Louisiana are currently working out a temporary base near New Orleans while the Shreveport office gears up to house many of the agents who had been operating in New Orleans. In Mississippi the small office in a Gulfport high rise building had been damaged but survived the storm, and also has been secured, officials said.

Alleged would-be Bush assassin in May incident indicted

Posted 5:22 p.m. ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN America Bureau

A federal grand jury in Washington Wednesday indicted a citizen of the Eastern European nation of Georgia for attempting to assassinate President Bush by lobbing a hand grenade in the vicinity of the President during a rally in the capital in May.

The two count indictment charges Vladimir Arutinian, 27, of Tbilisi with attempting to kill the President which carries a maximum life sentence. He was also charged with a related weapons charge.

Arutinian was apprehended by Georgian authorities on July 20 following a shootout in which a member of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs agent was killed. Arutinian was found in a nearby wooded area a short time later, officials said. Arutinian is scheduled to go on trial in Georgia for the murder of the Georgian agent Zurab Kvlividze.

The U.S. government is not now seeking extradition of Arutinian, Justice Department officials said. However, they may choose to do so at a later time. On May 10th, the would-be assassin threw a grenade into a crowd about 65 feet from the stage where the President had just begun speaking, but the live grenade wrapped in a plaid cloth failed to detonate, authorities said.

The Justice Department and Secret Service issued a joint statement praising the government of Georgia for its "extraordinary cooperation" in the case.

Postal Service delivering Social Security checks, appeals for address changes

Posted 4:25 p.m. ET
From Paul Courson, CNN Washington Bureau

The Postal Service is helping the Social Security Administration deliver monthly checks to people who are unable to receive their mail in the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

In the days since the storm moved through, officials have handed out checks totalling "about 10,000 in Mississipi and 5,000 in Louisiana," said Thomas Day, senior vice president for government relations.

Workers at trailer-type stations backed with security personnel are handing out the checks at locations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Locations include Baton Rouge, Biloxi and Gulfport. They are jointly run with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which also has established special banking services so beneficiaries may cash the checks.

Postal officials are making a strong appeal to those forced from the region to find a way to submit a change-of-address notification, even if it means listing an interim shelter or other temporary destinations.

A presidential address?

Posted: 12:35 p.m. ET
From Dana Bash, CNN White House Unit


There is "some talk out there" about the president addressing a joint session of Congress, however a senior administration official cautions that they are "rumblings" at this point -- far from close to being decided.

Some members of Congress are suggesting to the White House that such an address -- similar to Bush's address after September 11, 2001-- is something the president should consider, but CNN is told by a Bush administration source that GOP congressional leaders have not yet formally asked.

In recent days, administration officials have not ruled out some kind of presidential address to the nation, but claim they have not yet made any kind of decision. So far the focus has been getting the president out there in a working/surveying mode.

On the question of whether the Bush administration will appoint some kind of "uber-person" or "czar" to oversee relief and re-building efforts post-hurricane: Since the weekend, senior administration officials have suggested that they are considering the idea, but are being very tight lipped about any internal discussions.

CNN's Elise Labott reports that former Secretary of State Colin Powell says he hasn't had any talks with the White House about that kind of role. A spokesman for Rudy Guiliani wouldn't say one way or the other when asked by CNN whether the former New York mayor would play a role in post-hurricane efforts.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 8:50 a.m. ET
From John Mercurio, CNN Political Unit

Games, Blame and Parlor

Who do you blame for the crisis in the Gulf Coast?

If you think that question's premature and irrelevant to the ongoing recovery and lifesaving efforts, then you probably don't blame President Bush, Michael Brown or Michael Chertoff for a slow or ineffective response to Katrina. Otherwise, you're one of the 42 percent of Americans in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, released last night, who think federal agencies have done a bad job handling the storm.

Some 63 percent of respondents don't think any top federal official should be fired. But just 35 percent said Bush had done a good or great job handling the situation, while 42 percent say he's done a bad job helping people recover from what 93 percent said was the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. Fifty-six percent of Americans don't think New Orleans will ever completely recover. (More on the blame game below).

Meanwhile, more good news on gas (relatively speaking): AAA reports today that prices remain virtually unchanged from yesterday. The nation's average price of self-serve unleaded is $3.042 per gallon (up 0.1 of a cent from the previous day). The AAA price peaked on Labor Day at $3.057 per gallon.

* We'll get back to Katrina. But first some brief notes on today's funeral for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and a SCOTUS parlor game that's already in full swing.

Following two final hours of public viewing in the Supreme Court's upper great hall, funeral services will be held downtown at the Cathedral of St. Matthew The Apostle. The mass is to begin at 1 p.m. EDT. The service is expected to last about an hour.

The Rev. Dr. George W. Evans Jr., of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Arlington, will officiate. Evans is the pastor at Rehnquist's church and was with the family when the chief justice died Saturday.

Bush will speak following the service before Rehnquist's body is moved to Arlington National Cemetery for burial around 4 p.m.

Rehnquist isn't buried yet, but the parlor game over Bush's next SCOTUS pick got a boost yesterday from the president himself, who jokingly but pointedly mentioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a possible choice. "The list is wide open, which should create some good speculation here in Washington," Bush said to laughter in the Cabinet Room, with Gonzales sitting across from him. "And make sure you notice when I said that, I looked right at Al Gonzales, who can really create speculation."

* Back to Katrina, which continues to devastate the Gulf Coast and, in Washington, where the hurricane's aftermath has prompted tense maneuvering by both parties.

Late yesterday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay abruptly canceled plans for House hearings set hours before by Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis. DeLay instead called for a House-Senate panel to be set up for a "congressional review," saying "I don't think we need 100 hearings going on up here."

DeLay found an unlikely ally, or sorts, in delaying the blame game in the New York Times, who still found a way to criticize the Bush administration while agreeing that it's premature to investigate its response to Katrina.

"We can't imagine a worse idea," the Times wrote. "No administration could credibly investigate such an immense failure on its own watch. And we have learned through bitter experience - the Abu Ghraib nightmare is just one example - that when this administration begins an internal investigation, it means a whitewash in which no one important is held accountable and no real change occurs."

The New Orleans Times-Picayune sounded a similar note today, saying an independent commission "won't address what ought to be everyone's immediate priority: getting New Orleanians to safety and getting the reconstruction under way.

DeLay's actions came hours after Speaker Dennis Hastert -- at an afternoon photo-op where everyone got the memo to take off their coats and roll up their sleeves -- said he was unaware that Davis had planned the hearings, scheduled to start next week.

Concerning the joint review, House and Senate leaders are set to meet this morning to finalize plans. DeLay declined to offer any further details except to promise it would probe the response by state and local officials too.

Sources said tempters flared during a meeting between House members and Bush cabinet officials in charge of directing relief efforts, with one GOP lawmaker saying "all of you deserve failing grades."

Meanwhile, DeLay deflected criticism of the federal government, claiming the onus for handling emergencies falls on local and state officials first. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is expected to again call for FEMA Director Michael Brown to be fired. Senators are planning an investigation into the situation as well.

Last night, a memo was made public from Brown to Chertoff in the hours after the storm asking for more than 1,000 volunteers to go into the region. Some may question why that plea wasn't made before the storm hit, why they weren't pre-positioned, and the lack of urgency some felt the memo contained. FEMA said the memo was a normal post-storm request, and that the key first responders had already been deployed.

Meanwhile, the next storm brews off the coast of Florida.

Ophelia, a tropical storm, was moving slowly toward the northeastern Atlantic coast of Florida, threatening to drench the state with 15 inches of rain in some areas. The latest storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles an hour. The center of the storm was located about 115 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral.

The storm's overall track was unclear. One model (but only one) shows it going back out into the Gulf and toward Louisiana. Official track has it coming inland across northern Florida and likely dying out in southern Georgia. Other models show variety of things, including turning back out into ocean.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 8:30 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

COULD IT BE A.G.? President Bush said Tuesday that his list of candidates to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was "wide open," and he jokingly but pointedly singled out Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Mr. Bush's mention of Mr. Gonzales as a possibility, in comments to reporters at the end of a cabinet meeting, fueled concern among conservatives, who were already mobilizing against the attorney general. Conservatives say that Mr. Gonzales has not shown himself to be sufficiently opposed to abortion rights and that nominating him would miss an opportunity to move the court fundamentally to the right. NY Times: Gonzales Is Mentioned in Supreme Court Remarksexternal link

AID DELAYED BY BUREAUCRATS: Offers of foreign aid worth tens of millions of dollars -- including a Swedish water purification system, a German cellular telephone network and two Canadian rescue ships -- have been delayed for days awaiting review by backlogged federal agencies. Since Hurricane Katrina, more than 90 countries and international organizations offered to assist in recovery efforts for the flood-stricken region, but nearly all endeavors remained mired yesterday in bureaucratic entanglements, in most cases, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Washington Post: Offers of Aid Immediate, but U.S. Approval Delayed for Daysexternal link

MIKE BROWN'S BATTLE: In his online résumé, Michael Brown touts his experience dealing with hurricanes and wildfires. He talks of being a state legislative committee director and an assistant city manager. He doesn't mention the decade he spent as chief rules enforcer for the Arabian Horse Association. The horse job, which he left in 2000, is now fodder for critics who say Brown, head of FEMA, has botched the Katrina relief operation. Those critics include Republicans, Democrats and newspapers. USA Today: FEMA director faces his own storm of controversyexternal link

TOUGH DECISION FOR ARNOLD: The California Legislature made history Tuesday as the Assembly passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. With no votes to spare, California's lawmakers became the first in the United States to act without a court order to sanction gay marriages. The bill, which would change California's legal definition of marriage from "a civil contract between a man and a woman" to a "civil contract between two persons," now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has signaled that he will veto it. LA Times: Legislature OKs Gay Marriageexternal link

[NOT] WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS ON THE CONTINENT: Since winning a second term, President Bush has made four trips to Europe, where his first-term policies on Iraq and other issues made him the most unpopular U.S. president in recent decades. Now comes new evidence at what all this fence-mending has won him with average Europeans: nothing. A new poll taken in 10 European countries, as well as the United States, shows that Bush's foreign policy is just as unpopular across the Atlantic as it was a year ago. Washington Post: So Much for Mending Fences in Europeexternal link

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