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Bush on a Roll?

Lightly Grilled

There's a definite lull in the leak-related grilling of Scott McClellan.

Here's the text of yesterday's briefing. The one leak-related exchange:

"Q I wonder if you can help me understand something from earlier this week. When Alberto Gonzales went on the Sunday shows and was asked about the leak investigation and said that he told Andy Card 12 hours before the rest of the staff was told, we asked you about that, being an ongoing investigation, you told us that he wasn't saying anything new that hadn't been said on the podium in October 2003. And yet, when we've asked you about statements that you made in the podium in 2003, rather than affirming those statements, something that it seems like Gonzales might have done, you've just said that you can't comment on an ongoing investigation. So there seems to be a difference here. He's willing to restate something that happened, or that he said, but you're not.

"MR. McCLELLAN: We already addressed this the other day. There's nothing else to add to it.

"Go ahead."

The Understory

Laurie P. Cohen, Joe Hagan and Anne Marie Squeo write in the Wall Street Journal about how Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller went their separate ways.

Fitzgerald's Future

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, John Chase recounted former senator Peter Fitzgerald's assertion that there is mounting political pressure to oppose the reappointment of U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald this fall.

But Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times today that Fitzgerald's job is safe.

"Though his term is up this fall, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the aggressive prosecutor who is investigating Mayor Daley's City Hall, possible illegal White House leaks and who has a former Illinois governor awaiting a corruption trial, is in no danger of losing his job.

"House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was asked about Peter Fitzgerald's concerns Thursday . 'I know there [have] been innuendos about my getting pressures. I can tell you nobody has talked to me or called me about this. Anybody. Period,' Hastert said. . . .

"Legally, if President Bush does nothing, he stays on the job even though his term is over. Politically, Bush would face a storm of protest if he fired a man who is investigating his own administration."

But Whom Will Fitzgerald Report To?

John Harwood (subscription required) raises a fascinating issue in his Washington Wire column in the Wall Street Journal: "Imminent departure of Deputy Attorney General [James] Comey, who appointed CIA leak prosecutor Fitzgerald, would create a vacuum, since [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales is recused because of previous White House counsel service. Arriving deputy [Timothy E.] Flanigan, who also worked in counsel's office, may have similar problem, while third-in-command [Associate Attorney General Robert D.] McCallum [Jr.] is Yale friend of Bush. Comey plans to give the responsibility to career Justice attorney, though the only control Fitzgerald's Justice handler has is to fire him."

DAG Watch

As for Flanigan, Walter F. Roche Jr. writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The Bush administration's pick for deputy U.S. attorney general supervised a lobbying campaign two years ago by controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff to block legislation aimed at offshore companies escaping American taxes, records and interviews show."

Ambassadorships at a Price

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write in about Bush's picks for senior embassy postings. For instance, there's the new German ambassador-to-be, William Timken Jr., an Ohio industrialist who doesn't speak German and "has no obvious qualifications or abilities to repair the deeply strained relationship with one of America's most important allies for the last 50 years."

But he did raise at least $200,000 for the president's reelection campaign in 2004 -- "ranking him among the elite class of fund-raisers known as the Bush Rangers. . . .

"Timken is the eighth $100,000-plus Bush fund-raiser to be nominated for an ambassadorship since January. On Wednesday, the White House nominated Al Hoffman, a Florida developer who has raised $300,000 for Bush's presidential campaigns, to be ambassador to Portugal. Last month, Bush appointed Robert Tuttle, a California car dealer, to be ambassador to the United Kingdom, while Ronald Spogli, a California financer who was Bush's classmate at Harvard Business School, was named the top diplomat in Rome. Both men were Bush Pioneers in 2004 -- having raised at least $100,000 for the campaign. In April, the White House named David Wilkins, a South Carolina state representative who raised $200,000 for the 2004 campaign, as the ambassador to Canada. That appointment raised concerns north of the border when Wilkins admitted that he'd only visited Canada once--more than 30 years ago on a trip to Niagara Falls--and that he didn't speak French (Canada is officially a bilingual country)."

Kirstin Downey has even fresher ambassador news in The Washington Post: "On the same day that the White House announced that President Bush is nominating California billionaire Roland E. Arnall to be ambassador to the Netherlands, the company he controls said it would set aside $325 million for a possible settlement of allegations of predatory lending tactics."

The Stem Cell Break

H. Josef Hebert writes for the Associated Press about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's decision to break with Bush and support legislation to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research that he says would "bridge the moral and ethical differences" on the divisive issue.

CAFTA Epilogue

Warren Vieth writes for the Los Angeles Times: "Rep. Robert B. Aderholt's cellphone rang Wednesday as the Alabama Republican was standing in the House gallery with some constituents.

"The caller was President Bush. . . .

" 'I have some real concerns about the way CAFTA would treat my district, and I have some things that really need to be worked out before I can vote for it,' Aderholt said he told the president. . . .

"By the end of the day, Aderholt had in hand a letter signed by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, promising a series of steps to protect sock manufacturers and poultry producers in Aderholt's northern Alabama district.

"The late bargaining for votes in support of CAFTA angered critics, who said Thursday that they considered the deal-making unseemly."

Froomkin Watch

I'm taking Monday off. So no column until Tuesday. See you then.

Late Night Humor

On the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, correspondent Stephen Colbert reports: "Finally the phrase 'war on terror' is over, and we can all get on with our lives."

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