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INSIDE POLITICS

The Situation: Monday, August 8

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.

Charges unsealed against terror suspect

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Posted 5:13 p.m. ET
From Kevin Bohn, CNN America bureau

The U.S. Justice Department unsealed charges Monday alleging a suspect in British custody was part of a conspiracy in late 1999 and early 2000 to build a terror training camp in Bly, Ore.

Haroon Rashid Aswat was arrested July 20 in Zambia. On Sunday, Zambia deported the British national to his home country.

Appearing in court Monday in London on a U.S. extradition requisition, he was remanded to custody until an August 11 hearing.

In the criminal complaint, originally brought June 20 but sealed until now, prosecutors allege Aswat, also known as Aswat Haroon Rashid, is charged with providing material support to terrorists.

Sources familiar with the investigation say Aswat is believed to have provided some type of support to the July 7 London bombers, but investigators' interest in him regarding those attacks has seemingly waned recently.

CNN has previously reported there was a sealed arrest warrant for Aswat as part of the Oregon investigation. Sources familiar with the investigation told CNN Aswat is the man listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment brought against a Seattle man relating to the camp.

In court papers, the U.S. Justice Department alleges Aswat and another co-conspirator traveled to New York in November 1999, then took a bus to Seattle, where they were met by Ujaama. The criminal complaint confirms Ujaama, identified as "Cooperating Witness 1," provided information about Aswat.

As it has previously, prosecutors allege the camp was inspired by radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, identified as unindicted "Co-Conspirator 1" in the complaint. The criminal complaint says al-Masri sent Aswat and Kassir to the United States to help plan for the camp.

The camp "would be a place that Muslims could attend to receive various types of training, including military-style jihad training, in preparation for a community of Muslims to make 'hijrah' (to emigrate) to Afghanistan," the criminal complaint states. "Once in Afghanistan, the men in the community would have gained enough familiarity with weapons at the Bly training camp to fight jihad in Afghanistan."

Iran nuclear showdown

Posted 4:45 p.m. ET
From Elise Labott, CNN State Department unit

The Bush administration is calling Iran's move today to restart work at a nuclear facility a violation of its agreement with Britain, France and Germany, otherwise known as the EU3. But State Department officials say not to necessarily expect a referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council when the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meets Tuesday.

Although the United States has thought the Iran matter should have been referred to the Council a long time ago, officials say the goal is not to have any daylight between the United States and Europe. In exchange for U.S. support for its diplomacy with Iran, the EU3 agreed in March to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council if Iran violated its agreement with the EU3 in March to suspend nuclear enrichment.

One official said the United States will "put the EU3 out in front," and let them dictate the timing as to when the Iran issue should been referred to the United Nations. This is a last option for the Europeans, but U.S. officials seem confident the matter is moving in that direction.

That's why U.S. officials are saying they have not given up yet on diplomacy with Iran. Expect a statement by the IAEA board of governors Tuesday, calling on Iran to stand down immediately and stop work at its Isfahan nuclear facility.

Accused terrorist appeals to Supreme Court

Posted 4:21 p.m. ET
From Bill Mears, CNN Washington bureau

Attorneys for an accused Yemeni terrorist facing a possible U.S. military war crimes tribunal have filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The case could be the most important test so far of the U.S. government's power to detain and prosecute suspected terrorists captured and held overseas by the U.S. military.

A federal appeals court, which included high court nominee John Roberts, last month rejected Salim Ahmed Hamdan's challenge to the tribunal's procedures against terror suspects. President Bush set up the special military commissions two months after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The tribunals have not yet begun, pending the outcome of Hamdan's high court appeal.

The Supreme Court could refuse to intervene at this stage, or take the case and hold oral arguments, likely early next year. A ruling would come before July 2006.

Hamdan's lawyers, which include Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal and Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, filed the appeal Monday to the high court. In it, they warned the justices about the dangers of ignoring Hamdan's case. "If [military] commissions are worth conducting, they are worth conducting lawfully and being perceived as so conducted," according to the written brief. "Before embarking on a dangerous experiment to break not only from common law and international law, but also from our traditions of military justice, Americans and the rest of the world should rest assured that these principles will not be abandoned without at least review by the highest court in the land."

The U.S. government's written response to Hamdan's appeal is due in a few weeks.

Hamdan, a Yemeni native, was allegedly al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's personal driver and bodyguard. He was captured by the U.S. military and is currently being held on foreign soil, along with hundreds of other accused terrorists and fighters, at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Saudi threat update

Posted: 2:30 p.m. ET
From David Ensor, CNN America bureau

U.S. officials tell CNN that the threat information suggesting the U.S. embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia might be attacked comes from "multiple" intelligence streams. Some of it points specifically to Monday or Tuesday as when an attack could happen, some of it does not, these officials said. None of it specifies which facility would be targeted, they said.

U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia are closed Monday and Tuesday because of the the threats.

Remembering Jennings

Posted: 1:42 p.m. ET
From Wolf Blitzer, CNN Washington bureau

Peter Jennings was a role model for many of us. He was so knowledgeable and smooth on the air. Off the air, he was a journalist's journalist. Whenever our paths crossed covering stories in the United States or around the world, I learned something.

This goes back to our early days covering the Middle East in the late '70's and '80's. We spent quite a bit of time together, especially in March 1979 when we covered then President Jimmy Carter's last-ditch trip to the region to secure an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Carter succeeded.

I didn't always agree with Peter but I deeply admired his hard work, experience and integrity.

When I first made the move from print to broadcast journalism, I remember watching him for long periods of time -- simply to glean some tips.

The last time I spent some time with him was on February 2 of this year. As is his custom, President Bush invites the television anchors to the White House for lunch on the day of his State of the Union Address.

Peter was among the first to arrive in the lobby of the West Wing. He looked great and was full of smiles and quite happy. (His lung cancer would diagnosed in April.) All the anchors chatted for a while before being escorted to the White House dining room for the session with the President.

During the course of the question and answer session during that and earlier luncheons, Peter would always ask penetrating, relevant questions to the President. He was polite but firm -- as a good reporter should be.

When all is said and done, Peter did a great job for ABC News, but more importantly, he did a great job for the American people and he will be missed. My deepest condolences to his family and friends at ABC News.

District attorney seeks to challenge Hillary Clinton for Senate

Posted: 1:24 p.m. ET
From CNN Political unit

Jeanine Pirro, the high-profile district attorney for Westchester County, N.Y., will seek the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's run for re-election next year, her spokesman said Monday.

"New York deserves a senator who is committed to New York, not someone whose primary interest is running for president," spokesman Mike McKeon told CNN.

Pirro will formally announce her candidacy at a press conference Wednesday at The Waldford-Astoria in Manhattan, he said.

She will face Edward Cox, a Manhattan attorney who is the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, in the primary.

In May, when Pirro announced interest in seeking a statewide seat, a Senate GOP strategist said she would be a "very attractive candidate, for sure. Clearly, there's an interest level there, on both sides."

But another White House official, political director Sarah Taylor, who met with Pirro in May in New York, told CNN that some Republicans are concerned about how Pirro would handle one potentially sticky issue -- her husband, Albert J. Pirro Jr., a lobbyist in White Plains, was convicted in 2000 of income tax fraud and served 11 months in federal prison.

"It's been a distraction for her," Taylor said. "But really, I don't think anyone's going to outscandal Hillary Clinton." Throughout her husband's presidency and afterward, Republicans continually tried to link Clinton to a variety of scandals.

Pirro became Westchester County district attorney in 1994, and is now serving her third four-year term.

Saudi threats

Posted: 10:45 a.m. ET
From Elise Labott, CNN State Department unit

U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia are closed Monday and Tuesday because of "specific and credible" threats against U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia.

A State Department official told CNN the United States had "unusually specific and credible" information about a vehicle bombing by an "IED," or improvised explosive device at one of the American facilities in the Kingdom sometime on Monday.

Although the information was specific on timing, it did not specify which of the missions would be attacked, prompting the State Department to close its embassy in Riyadh, as well as its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:00 a.m. ET
From John Mercurio, CNN Political unit

We didn't know Peter Jennings. But like most Americans who welcomed him into their homes every weeknight for the past 22 years, we sorta felt like we did. And so his death, announced by Charles Gibson around 11:30 p.m. ET last night in an ABC News special report, resonates profoundly with us all.

A high-school dropout, born in Canada, who became one of America's three most prominent TV newsmen and, by most accounts, the best ad-libber in the biz, Jennings spent the past four months in a very public struggle with lung cancer.

On a message board he updated frequently on ABCnews.com, he recently noted a book he'd received from former Carter chief of staff Hamilton Jordan called "No Such Thing as a Bad Day" and advice from Sen. Arlen Specter, himself a cancer patient, who counseled that the "only way to get through chemo is to 'work your way through it.'" Of Specter, Jennings wrote, "He's a tougher man than I am."

Jennings' death marks the first passing among the country's final TV triumvirate, that triad of newsmen who dominated American broadcasts in the late 20th Century, but have stepped down this year amid turf encroachment by all matter of media -- cable, internet, bloggers etc. No matter how effective the new media ultimately proves to be, they'll never be one of three.

* Meanwhile, an abortion-rights group makes official their position on John Roberts.

NARAL Pro-Choice America unveils a TV ad this morning announcing their opposition to Roberts. The ad, scheduled to run nationwide, will focus on Roberts' record on privacy while was the deputy solicitor general. NARAL President Nancy Keenan holds an 11:30 a.m. EDT presser in DC to unveil the spot.

And comments from Justice John Paul Stevens this weekend may bring the death penalty discussion in to the nomination debate. In blunt comments to the American Bar Association in Chicago, Stevens was critical of the death penalty, saying wrongful convictions, jury selection and victim-impact statements raise serious questions about the sentences.

Stevens didn't call for the death penalty to be eliminated, but he made his comments in his home state, where questions over the guilt of some death row inmates prompted a moratorium on executions several years ago.

"With the benefit of DNA evidence, we have learned that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously," he said. "That evidence is profoundly significant. Not only because of its relevance to the debate about the wisdom of continuing to administer capital punishment, but also because it indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice."

Retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was often a swing vote on death penalty cases. The court currently is reviewing four death penalty cases. Roberts' record on the death penalty is not clear. AP reports he did pro bono work for a death row inmate.

* President Bush heads from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, this morning to Albuquerque, New Mexico, visiting the Sandia National Laboratories at Kirkland Air Force Base to sign the long debated energy bill into law. Bush tours the Solar Tower Complex at the lab at 12:55 p.m. EDT, and then makes remarks in a bill signing ceremony at 1:35 p.m. Bush signs the bill in the lab's Schiff Auditorium.

Conspicuously absent from the 1,724-page bill is ANWR, one of the president's top energy priorities, which was stripped from the measure under Democratic threat of a Senate filibuster. The fight over ANWR drilling is sure to return to Capitol Hill when Congress returns next month. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici plans to include a provision authorizing drilling as part of a filibuster-proof budget procedure.

Following the bill signing, Bush returns to Crawford, where he'll be greeted by the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year. Cindy Sheehan is protesting the war near the president's ranch and vowing to remain there until she speaks to the president. Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City area in April '04, is holding a roadside vigil near the ranch calling for troops to be brought home immediately.

We have new poll numbers on Bush, John Roberts and the public's view on the stem-cell debate. They'll be released in the 3 o'clock hour on the premiere of "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer.

Political Hot Topics, August 5

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

PETER JENNINGS, 1938-2005: ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings died today at his home in New York City. He was 67. On April 5, Jennings announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, Kayce Freed, his two children, Elizabeth, 25, and Christopher, 23, and his sister, Sarah Jennings. ABC NEWS: Peter Jennings Dies at 67external link

PERCENT DISAPPROVE IRAQ POLICY: As U.S. troops endured a deadly week in Iraq, 61 percent of Americans polled say they disapprove of the way President George W. Bush is handling the war in Iraq, according to a new NEWSWEEK poll. Thirty four percent say they approve. This is Bush's lowest rating on Iraq and the first time it has dropped below 40 percent in the NEWSWEEK poll. NEWSWEEK: Bush's Battleexternal link

DISTRAUGHT MOM TO MEDIA PHENOM: A mother whose son was killed in Iraq says she is prepared to continue her protest outside President Bush's ranch through August until she is granted an opportunity to speak with him. Cindy Sheehan's 24-year-old son -- Army Spc. Casey Sheehan of Vacaville, California -- was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City on April 4, 2004. CNN.com: Soldier's mom digs in near Bush ranch

ANTI-TERROR PLANS AT HOME: The U.S. military has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country. The classified plans outline a variety of possible roles for quick-reaction forces estimated at as many as 3,000 ground troops per attack. Washington Post: War Plans Drafted To Counter Terror Attacks in U.S.external link

DISCOVERY LANDING DELAYED: "Unstable" weather conditions prompted NASA to scrub Discovery's scheduled landing Monday, the first space shuttle landing attempt since the Columbia disaster. The next opportunity is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:07 a.m. ET at the Florida landing site. CNN.com: Discovery landing delayed

WINNING FORMULA FOR '06?: Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett (D) fell just short of beating Republican Jean Schmidt in Tuesday's special election in Ohio's 2nd district. But his close call in solid Republican territory makes some Democrats think they have a winning recipe for 2006. Namely, find other young veterans who can constructively critique the Bush administration's foreign policy. For now, at least three other veterans of either the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns are running for Congress as Democrats next year. Roll Call: After Hackett's Close Call, Iraq War Veterans Are in Demandexternal link

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