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The Situation: Tuesday, August 16

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.

August News







Capitol Hill
Cindy Sheehan

Posted 3:35 p.m. ET
From Wolf Blitzer, CNN Washington

August is supposed to be a slow news month. The key words: "supposed to be." In my years in journalism, though, that hardly ever turns out to be the case. I can't tell you how many of my August vacations -- all well-planned and usually paid for -- have been upended by breaking news in Washington or around the world.

Early in my career at CNN, Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard (remember them?) invaded Kuwait. It was August 2, 1990. I was then CNN's Pentagon correspondent. There went that vacation.

The following August, when I was on vacation in Hilton Hilton, South Carolina with my family, there was a coup in the Soviet Union. I had to rush back to Washington. And a day later, I was sent to Moscow to cover the drama of that coup. There went that vacation.

You get the drift. News is unpredictable. Just when you think things might be relatively quiet, something always happens.

Right now, for example, there is a constitutional crisis in Iraq -- the stakes there are enormous. The Israelis are making a historic withdrawal from Gaza. It may be August, but there's no shortage of news.

That's one reason why I love this business.

Rumsfeld speaks about Iraq, Iran

Posted: 3:30 p.m. ET
From Jim Barnett, CNN Pentagon Unit

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is traveling to South America on a three country tour. He spoke to reporters on the flight to Paraguay.

Rumsfeld said the delay in drafting an Iraqi constitution is "not helpful." He said he doesn't know how it would affect the insurgency. "Time will tell. I think we'll all learn soon enough." He told reporters he's confident the Iraqis will end up voting on a new constitution on October 15.

Rumsfeld said, "I've always believed the sooner the constitution was completed and the sooner it was voted on the greater the likelihood that the Iraqi people would feel they had a stake in the country..."

On reports of Iran's influence in Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters aboard his plane, "...We know that we're finding Iranian weapons inside the country. They don't just get there by accident. And we know that Iran has a system of government it would like to replicate in Iraq... So one ought not to be surprised that they're engaged in the kind of activities that they're engaged in. They're making a mistake, in my view. I think that they're going to have to live with their neighbors like anyone would.

When asked about the impact of the Iraqi war on U.S. public opinion, Rumsfeld said, "We are engaged in a test of wills. And to the extent that the American people are subjected to a constant series of negative things or disappointing things or problems as opposed to a balanced impression of what's taking place in that country, it has to be discouraging to anyone reading what is read or said."

Three plead not guilty

Posted: 1:24 p.m. ET
From Terry Frieden, CNN America Bureau

Two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also known as AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and a Pentagon analyst pleaded not guilty in federal court Tuesday on charges of unauthorized communication of national defense information and conspiracy involving such information.

The former AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, and Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin entered their pleas before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia. Rosen, Weissman and Franklin will remain free until trial on personal recognizance bonds of $100,000 each. As part of the arrangement they also are required to surrender travel documents and they cannot leave the D.C. metropolitan area without permission from the court.

Rosen and Weissman were fired by AIPAC in April. A criminal complaint returned earlier this month alleged Franklin, who once worked on the Iran desk at the Pentagon, disclosed classified information to officials from AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Court documents also alleged Franklin conspired to communicate classified information to the representative of a foreign government, whom sources have identified as Israel. There was no discussion of the substance of the charges at Tuesday's arraignment.

A trial date was set for January 3, 2006. There will be a hearing on various pre-trial motions October 20th. Sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI is continuing its probe of the alleged disclosure.

Snowe vs. Roberts?

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

Anyone who has worked for Olympia Snowe, covered her or watched her argue with security guards at National Airport, knows she's not someone you want to pick a fight with. Twenty-one years ago, an associate White House counsel named John Roberts did just that. Today, it's coming back to haunt him in his bid for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Overall, reporters seemed unimpressed with the latest dump of Roberts documents, which consisted of more than 5,000 pages released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and National Archives yesterday. The New York Times wrote that, "Anyone expecting the nearly 5,400 pages of documents, dating from late 1982 to mid-1986, to contain the key to the kind of Supreme Court justice that Judge Roberts would be is likely to be disappointed."

But at least one memo has set Roberts on a collision course with Snowe, a moderate Republican senator, who took issue with an '84 note in which he skewered three Republican congresswomen for backing government efforts to guarantee that women were paid equally for work deemed of "comparable worth" to that done by men.

Snowe was one of those women.

"It is difficult to exaggerate the perniciousness of the comparable worth theory," Roberts wrote to his then-boss, White House counsel Fred Fielding, in the February 3, 1984 memo. "It mandates nothing less than central planning of the economy by judges. In another memo penned two weeks later, he added, "I honestly find it troubling that three Republican representatives are so quick to embrace such a radical redistributive concept.

The congresswomen, he wrote, noted that women still made 60 cents for every dollar for men, while "ignoring the factors that explain that apparent disparity, such as seniority, the fact that many women frequently leave the workforce for significant periods of time, etc."

Roberts, then 29, even suggested that the lawmakers (Snowe, Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, and Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island) might be Marxists. "Their slogan may as well be 'From each according to his ability, to each according to her gender," Roberts quipped, referring to them as "Republican female representatives.

The senator was not amused. "Hopefully, 21 years later, Judge Roberts possesses an openness with respect to issues of gender-based wage discrimination, and as the confirmation process moves forward, I will continue to carefully and rigorously evaluate his views and 26-year record on such critical matters," she said yesterday in a statement.

This tussle, in itself, is unlikely to develop into a full-scale headache for Roberts, who the Washington Post today announced is "unlikely to face [a] big fight." Allen/Milbank report that the nominee could even get a filibuster-proof 70 votes when he faces Senate confirmation next month. Still, Roberts' writings differ sharply with those of his would-be predecessor, Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice. One of O'Connor's top issues, dating back to her service in the Arizona Senate, was low wages for women. She voted consistently in favor of affirmative action and ruled that federal law protected girls from bias in school programs.

Elsewhere in the documents, we find a memo that undercuts the image NARAL sought (unsuccessfully) to project of Roberts in (withdrawn) TV ads last week. In the '86 memo, he dismisses the notion, raised in a letter from a congressman, that President Reagan might pardon people convicted of bombing abortion clinics. "No matter how lofty or sincerely held the goal, those who resort to violence to achieve it are criminals," Roberts wrote. "Neither the cause ... nor the target of their violence will in any way be considered to mitigate the seriousness of their offense against our laws."

And finally, CNN's Bill Mears reports that Roberts supported the idea of allowing prayer in public schools, writing as a White House lawyer in '85 that such efforts were "within the constitutional power of Congress." But while critical of the Supreme Court for banning school prayer, he also said legislative efforts to go around the courts were "bad policy." In a November 21, 1985 memo, Roberts criticized the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting "meditation or voluntary prayer" in Alabama school. Roberts wrote the ruling's conclusion that "the Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection -- or even silent 'prayer' -- seems indefensible."

Political Hot Topics

Posted 9 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Political Unit

IRAQI LEADERS EXTEND DEADLINE: The Iraqi political process descended toward paralysis on Monday, when leaders failed to meet the deadline for completing the new constitution and voted to give themselves another week to resolve fundamental disagreements over the future and identity of this fractious land. Several of the leaders said the disagreements, revolving around Islam, oil and the distribution of political power, grew sharper and more numerous as the day dragged on. Some said they were pessimistic that such vast differences could be resolved at all, much less in seven days. NY Times: Leaders in Iraq Extend Deadline on Constitutionexternal link

EASY RIDE FOR ROBERTS: Democrats have decided that unless there is an unexpected development in the weeks ahead, they will not launch a major fight to block the Supreme Court nomination of John G. Roberts Jr., according to legislators, Senate aides and party strategists. In a series of interviews in recent days, more than a dozen Democratic senators and aides who are intimately involved in deliberations about strategy said that they see no evidence that most Democratic senators are prepared to expend political capital in what is widely seen as a futile effort to derail the nomination. Washington Post: Roberts unlikely to face a Big Fightexternal link

BUDGET DEFICIT DROPS: The Congressional Budget Office predicts a budget deficit of $314 billion for the coming fiscal year, almost a $100 billion decline from last year's deficit. The new report by the nonpartisan CBO, which does budget analysis for lawmakers in Washington, gave the latest proof that surging revenues and a steadily growing economy are combining to bring the deficit down from a record $412 billion posted last year. The coming budget year starts October 1. CNN: Federal budget deficit drops again

FORRESTER AND CORZINE, TWO REALLY RICH GUYS: The two main candidates for New Jersey governor provided a glimpse into their vast personal wealth Monday by releasing tax returns showing each had an annual income of around $12 million. Republican Douglas Forrester paid federal taxes of $3.7 million on adjusted gross income of $12 million in 2003. Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine, meanwhile, paid federal taxes of $1.3 million on adjusted gross income of $11.8 million in 2004, according to tax returns he released in Newark. Yahoo!: Tax Files Show NJ Gov Hopefuls' Wealthexternal link

NEW YORK MAYORAL DEBATE TONIGHT: Let the verbal battles begin. The first Democratic mayoral primary debate as mandated under Campaign Finance Board rules starts at 7 p.m. today, an event that is expected to propel the final four weeks of campaigning. Candidates Fernando Ferrer, C. Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller and Anthony Weiner are scheduled to stand alongside one another at the Jazz at Lincoln Center auditorium to face a panel of four reporters. Newsday is sponsoring the event, along with NY1 News, WNYC Radio (820 AM, 93.5 FM), and NY1 Noticias. Each organization will be represented on the panel. Newsday: Candidates to Square Offexternal link

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