Dan Rather's producer

Robert Novak
Posted: Sep 25, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- The executive producer of CBS's "60 Minutes" midweek broadcast, who partially blamed the Bush White House for bogus documents used by Dan Rather, is a former staffer for New York Democrats who was still making political contributions while on the network's payroll.

Josh Howard served on the staff of Rep. Stephen Solarz and worked for Sen. Charles Schumer when Schumer was a state assemblyman, a background confirmed by CBS. Federal election reporting records show that Howard, identifying himself as a CBS employee, contributed $1,000 in each of Solarz's last two campaigns for Congress in 1990 and 1992.

 When CBS first conceded possible defects in the documents about George W. Bush's military service, Howard said: "If the White House had just raised an eyebrow -- they didn't have to say they were forgeries -- but if there was any hint that there was a question, that would have sent us back."


 Former Secretary of State James Baker, the Bush campaign's debate negotiator, agreed to three instead of two debates to get what the White House wanted most: the first debate in Coral Gables, Fla., next Thursday discussing foreign affairs, not domestic affairs as originally scheduled.

 Bush aides had hinted they would insist on no more than two debates, but in fact they never felt it was important. Based on their belief that the first debate exerts an inordinate influence on public opinion, they wanted it to deal with the war on terror where George W. Bush is presumed to have an advantage over John Kerry.

 Had Bush insisted on canceling the second, town hall-format debate, it might have hurt politically. It is scheduled at Washington University in St. Louis, and Missouri is an important battleground state.


 Democratic politicians are sending advice to the Kerry campaign asserting the Democratic candidate's only hope to be elected will be to humiliate President Bush in the debates.

 That strategy is based on the widespread Democratic belief that the outcome of the 2000 debates was less Bush winning than Al Gore losing. These politicians argue that Bush cannot recover from a total Kerry assault.

 Bush campaign strategists have been studying the 1996 debates between Sen. Kerry and then Massachusetts Gov. William Weld. They believe that Weld lost interest and concentration during the long series of debates, and will try to get Bush to challenge all of Kerry's questionable assertions.


 The State Department's highly critical new report on religious persecution in Vietnam conflicts with U.S. government subsidies from the Export-Import Bank to encourage Vietnamese businesses.

 The department's annual International Religious Freedom Report lists Vietnam as a Category I violator ("totalitarian or authoritarian actions to control religious belief or practice") subject to U.S. sanctions. The document cites "credible reports" that the Vietnamese government's persecution of ethnic minority Protestants and independent Buddhists has grown worse.

 China, which has received Export-Import subsidies for years, also is listed in Category I. Named as Category II violators ("state hostility toward minority or non-approved religions") are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan -- all recipients of Ex-Im aid.


 Republicans may lose a Senate seat in Oklahoma because some business interests have recoiled from GOP candidate Tom Coburn's opposition to pork-barrel spending that has made him a hero to the conservative movement.

Coburn's double-digit lead after the primary election has become a deficit. Rep. Brad Carson, his Democratic opponent, has waged a heavy negative television campaign against Coburn. But GOP strategists believe Coburn's anti-pork campaign during his six years in the House has hurt him most. Many business leaders regard him as a rigid ideologue who will not help them.

 Support for Coburn from the state's congressional delegation (all Republicans except for Carson) has not been solid. His anti-pork efforts made him unpopular with the Washington establishment.