Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Au contraire

May 18, 2011

Who knew what when about where?

That is the persistent question about Pakistan after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found practically in the backyard of the country’s military and its capital.

Top U.S. defense officials tried to calm the fury today by saying they had no evidence that anyone in the senior Pakistani leadership had knowledge of bin Laden’s location.

“I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew. In fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

“And we have no evidence yet with respect to anybody else,” he said. “My supposition is, somebody knew.”

The military-intelligence hunt for bin Laden has morphed into the political hunt for bin Laden’s enabler in Pakistan — if there was one … no evidence so far.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. slaps sanctions on Syrian president, top aides

The United States imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and six other top aides for human rights abuses in a dramatic escalation of pressure on Syria to cease its brutal crackdown on protesters. Targeting Assad personally, which the United States and European Union have so far avoided, is a significant slap at Damascus and raises questions about whether the West may ultimately seek Assad’s removal from power.

For more of this story by Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn, read here.

Obama: protecting America demands ongoing sacrifice

President Obama reminded America that the fight to protect the country would demand continued sacrifice, despite the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “We will never waver in the defense of the country we love,” Obama said in a commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy for 229 graduating cadets.

For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

No sign Pakistan knew bin Laden whereabouts: U.S.

Top U.S. defense officials say there was no evidence Pakistan’s leadership was aware that Osama bin Laden was in their country before a U.S. military raid killed him, and they cautioned against punitive action against Islamabad over the incident. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Pentagon news conference he had seen “no evidence at all” that the senior Pakistani leadership knew the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts before the raid and “in fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary.”

For more of this story by David Alexander, read here.

Republicans grapple with U.S. healthcare issue

The troubled healthcare industry is now plaguing Republicans hoping to take the White House in 2012. The health law proved a liability for Democrats in November as Republicans labeled it and other programs heavy-handed intrusions by big government. “Republicans have been so brilliant at framing what should have been a great Democratic success as too much government,” said James Morone of Brown University. But, “It’s much harder to argue against big government when you’re targeting popular programs.”

For more of this analysis by Patricia Zengerle, read here.

Most at Fed want rate hikes before asset sales

Most Federal Reserve officials prefer to raise benchmark interest rates before selling assets when the time comes to tighten policy, minutes of their April meeting showed. Officials agreed they would eventually shrink the Fed’s much expanded portfolio over the medium term, and getting rid of mortgage-related debt would be a priority.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal, read here.

Obama 2012 using birther flap as fund-raising tool

President Obama’s re-election campaign is having some fun — and raising some money — from a flap over whether Obama was born in the United States. The Obama campaign is offering a “Made in the USA” T-shirt emblazoned with the president’s birth certificate in exchange for a $30 donation. There are coffee mugs as well.

For more of this story, read here.

What we are blogging…

And the GOP favorite is…

Top establishment Republicans are getting more desperate about the GOP’s current presidential line-up all the time. Care to guess why? Newt Gingrich, once among the most prominent voices in the GOP, appears to be on the ropes only a week after declaring his candidacy – and even before his first official campaign trip to the early voting state of Iowa.

For more of David Morgan’s post, read here.

From elsewhere…

Peace prospects bleak for Netanyahu U.S. visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Washington on Friday to rally opposition to a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. There is little indication the right-wing leader will, or can, offer new peacemaking ideas to persuade Palestinians not to take a detour at the U.N. General Assembly in September around the brick wall that the U.S. peace efforts have run into.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/pool (Gates at Camp Victory in Baghdad, April 7)

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