Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Obama’s China cloud

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event in Chantilly, Virginia earlier this week on May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Benjamin Myers

A bright spot of Barack Obama’s presidency – foreign policy – all of a sudden was taking some hits as the White House struggled to deal with a crisis involving a Chinese dissident. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted away at Obama, talking of a “day of shame for the Obama administration.” Charges – vigorously denied by the White House – swirled that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng may have been persuaded to leave his protective shelter at the U.S. embassy in Beijing so that high-level U.S.-China talks could go more smoothly. Another scenario being floated was that Obama’s team naively accepted Chinese assurances that Chen would not face government harassment if he rejoined his family at home.

The drama only escalated when Chen himself made an appeal, by telephone to a congressional panel, to come to the U.S.

Obama’s bid for re-election on Nov. 6 is thought to hinge on matters far from China: mainly whether he can convince voters that he is best suited to improve a U.S. economy that has been slow to add jobs in the aftermath of a deep recession. And that’s where Romney and his fellow Republicans are sure to keep most of their focus between now and November.

New Obama ad suggests Romney wouldn’t have gone after bin Laden

In advance of the May Day anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, the Obama reelection campaign is out with a new web ad, this one narrated by Bill Clinton who, echoing the words of another former president, praises Obama as “decider in chief.” The bin Laden operation was risky for Obama, Clinton says — if the intelligence was wrong or if the Navy Seals were captured or killed, “the downside would have been horrible” — but “that’s what you hire a president to do. You hire a president to make the calls when no one else can do it.”

The ad contrasts Obama’s action with speculation about whether Romney would have done the same, citing comments he made during the ’08 campaign suggesting it wouldn’t be worth it to spend “billions of dollars, just trying to catch one person.”

Watch the ad, via barackobama.com:

Photo credit: Screenshot/barackobama.com

Washington Extra – Kids, cover your ears

It’s true, you learn much more out in the real world than you do in school. Just look at the kids who today attended the State Department press briefing for Take Your Child to Work Day. Instead of lessons in nation-building or food aid, they were treated to a discussion of prostitutes and strip clubs. 

With Washington gripped by a widening Secret Service scandal, reporters just couldn’t steer clear of the salacious story. Soon after spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saluted the handful of underage observers, the questions moved to charges that Secret Service agents and other government workers cavorted with strippers and prostitutes while on overseas assignments. Nuland lamented the topic du jour and one Department employee jokingly moved to cover his daughter’s ears.

The roughly half-dozen kids were models of decorum. There they sat, on the sidelines of the briefing room, staring down at the floor. None asked a question. But they might have been thinking “Mom, Dad, when we get home tonight, you’ll have some explaining to do.”

Washington Extra – Au contraire

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.

Down to the wire…

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan expects his fellow Republicans to wait until the “last minute” to strike a deal that averts national default by raising the $14.3 trillion limit on the U.S. debt.

Failure to reach a deal could trigger a new global financial crisis, according to analysts and Democrats including President Barack Obama. But on Monday, the day the U.S. debt reached its current statutory limit, Ryan told an Illinois AM radio station that “we’re going to negotiate this thing probably up through July, that’s how these things go.”

“That’s how these things go” could place negotiations at the very doorstep of an Aug. 2 deadline, which is when the Treasury Department believes it will exhaust its bag of tricks for staving off a financial apocalypse.

Why keep bin Laden images secret? Have you seen the situation room pictures…

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says friends have sent him humorous versions of the iconic photo of  President Barack  Obama in the situation room with his national security team watching the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Versions with everyone wearing elaborate royal-wedding-style hats.

Versions with extra politicians added in.

Versions with football players.

“This is all harmless and humorous stuff,” he said.

But it is also a lesson in how easily photos can be altered.

Gates says he agrees with Obama’s decision not to publicly release death photos of bin Laden.

Gates told U.S. Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina he hoped the images would never be made public, and he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had recommended as much to the president.

Washington Extra – In pursuit

Osama bin Laden is gone, but plenty of questions remain about how the al Qaeda leader evaded an intense decade-long manhunt that ended in a dramatic U.S. raid on a house in Pakistan.

The real breakthrough that led to bin Laden came from a mysterious CIA detainee, Hassan Ghul, according to a Reuters special report published today. It was Ghul who, after years of tantalizing hints from other detainees, finally provided the information that prompted the CIA to focus intensely on finding Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, pseudonym for the courier who would lead them to bin Laden.

Fresh from the victory of finding the world’s most wanted man, President Barack Obama wants no let-up in the pursuit of terrorism suspects and surprised everyone by seeking a two-year extension of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s 10-year term.

Looking to cash in on bin Laden bounty? Forget about it

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, it doesn’t look like anyone will be claiming the multimillion-dollar bounty the U.S. government put on his head.

White House spokesman Jay Carney signaled that no one was likely to receive the $25 million reward, which the Secretary of State had discretion to double, because it was U.S. intelligence work rather than a tipster that led to the deadly raid on the al Qaeda chief’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a week ago.

“As far as I’m aware, no one knowledgeably said, ‘Oh, Osama bin Laden’s over here in Abbottabad at 5703, you know, Green Avenue’,” Carney said, drawing laughs at the White House daily briefing.

Gonzales wishes Bush admin had gotten to bin Laden first

Andrew Longstreth in New York interviewed the former Attorney General.

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he was grateful for the killing of Osama bin Laden even if he would have preferred it to have happened under the Bush administration.

“It was an important day,” Gonzales told Reuters on Wednesday. “We worked very hard to make this come about. I wished it happened under the Bush administration. But I’m grateful it happened when it did.”

Before Gonzales became attorney general, he served as White House counsel. In that position, he ordered a legal memo that was used to justify harsh interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects.

Bin Laden’s death relieves U.S. of tough decision about legal prosecution

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is probably relieved that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed during the military operation in Pakistan rather than being captured.

A year ago, Holder drew some scrutiny when Republicans in the House of Representatives questioned him about how bin Laden would be prosecuted if captured, whether in a traditional federal criminal court or a special military court.

Republicans and even some Democrats have opposed federal trials for the foreign terrorism suspects because they would be afforded all traditional U.S. legal rights. Military courts have more relaxed standards for allowing certain evidence to be used during trials and do not require that suspects be advised of their legal rights, such as the right to a lawyer or to remain silent.