Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Exposure of CIA operative Johnny (Mike) Spann's identity as the first American killed in Afghanistan is viewed by surprised intelligence insiders as an effort by Director George Tenet to boost the embattled CIA's prestige. Old CIA hands were shocked by the breaking of the old rule keeping secret the names of agents in order to protect their family and associates (in this case, undercover Pakistanis and Tajiks). The rule was violated, according to the insiders, because the CIA needs publicity after the massive intelligence failure of Sept. 11. The death of a heroic agent makes the agency look better. This incident intensifies congressional criticism of Tenet, with intelligence experts suggesting that a badly planned interrogation of Taliban prisoners cost Spann his life. UNHAPPY WITH GALE The rising tide of conservative discontent with the Bush administration has now targeted the Cabinet member who was the darling of the Right when liberals fought against her confirmation by the Senate: Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Ranchers and farmers are bitter, contending that Norton betrayed them and failed to be a champion of private landowners. They accuse her of continuing the anti-private property rights policies of Bruce Babbitt, her Clinton administration predecessor. Farmers in Oregon's Klamath Basin complain Norton has not backed them in their battle against environmentalists who seek to restrict their access to water. Norton also has agreed with environmentalists to place new species on the Endangered Species List. She was subjected to hostile questioning on this issue after speaking recently to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington. DEMOCRATIC SCHEDULING Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's desire to hold only sham Senate sessions the week of Dec. 10 coincides with major Democratic fund-raising in the Midwest and West Coast. Daschle contends that a week free of Senate sessions will enable committees to expedite their work product prior to adjournment. It also enables Daschle and other Senate Democratic leaders to join a money-raising tour with stops in Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and California's Silicon Valley. A footnote: With so little time left in this year's session, the economic stimulus bill is in jeopardy despite Wednesday's agreement for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. TROUBLED INCUMBENT A Zogby poll shows Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire would lose the Republican Senate primary in 2002 to Rep. John E. Sununu by more than 20 points if the election were today. The Oct. 24 survey by John Zogby, commissioned by Sununu, shows a gap of 45.3 percent to 22.2 percent. It indicates only 26.4 percent of New Hampshire Republicans favor Smith's re-election, displaying unprecedented weakness for an incumbent. Smith's troubles inside the GOP began with his temporary departure from the party in 1999 during his failed campaign for president. Smith is bitter about non-support from his Senate colleagues and the neutrality by Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Smith has noted to friends that 22 Democratic senators showed up when Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic challenger for Smith's Senate seat, held a recent Washington fund-raiser. UNHAPPY IN NEW JERSEY Bret Schundler, in a memo to supporters under the subtitle "Why We Lost," blamed New Jersey's Republican establishment for his lopsided defeat for governor by Democrat Jim McGreevey. "Right through to election day," said Schundler, "a handful of Republican insiders assailed me as being 'extreme,' even though my positions on the issues they cited are the same as those of our president, whom these same insiders say they support." This charge, he continued, "gave liberal reporters in the media the excuse they wanted to caricature me as being out of the mainstream." A footnote: Although Republican leaders starting with President Bush did not come to New Jersey to campaign for Schundler, his supporters are especially upset by Sen. John McCain's nonappearance. McCain had telephoned Schundler to compliment him on his primary victory, but one of the senator's aides told Schundler's office that McCain campaigned only for campaign finance reform supporters.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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