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In a rare one-on-one interview with Meet the Press, President Bush this weekend defended his decisions to invade Iraq, his tax cuts and his military service during the Vietnam War. Bush described himself as a "war president" and mentioned the word war at least two dozen times in the hour-long interview. He repeatedly said the decision to invade Iraq was shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks and said the war was necessary even if no weapons are found. Bush said "This is a dangerous world. I wish it wasn’t. I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind." He also defended his record in the National Guard which has come under criticism from Democratic frontrunner John Kerry and others. Bush said "I put in my time." The controversy arose four years ago when the Boston Globe found there was no evidence that showed Bush fulfilled his duties between May 1972 and May 1973. Bush told Russert "There may be no evidence, but I did report." Bush also defended his economic policies despite the surging national deficit. He claimed he would cut the deficit in half in five years. Bush’s performance was criticized by many. Writing on the Wall Street Journal website, conservative commentator Peggy Noonan wrote that Bush was not impressive. "The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He did not seem prepared." John Podesta head of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said "President Bush sought to restore his credibility today and he clearly failed to do so." We’ll hear excerpts of the interview in a few minutes.
President Aristide’s government in Haiti has accused its opponents of plotting a coup after opposition groups seized several cites in recent days. Haiti’s fourth largest city Gonaives has been under control of opponents of Aristide since Thursday. A group of former supporters of Aristide called the Gonaives Resistance Front claimed control of the city. According to the Los Angeles Times, the group took control of the city’s police station, freed 100 prisoners from jail and torched the mayor’s home. At least 11 people, mostly police officers have died in the city since Thursday. Opposition groups have also taken control of at least six other cities and towns in recent days including the port city of St. Marc. Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said "This violence is connected to a coup attempt." Meanwhile in Port-au-Prince, tens of thousands of government supporters rallied on Saturday to mark the third anniversary of Aristide’s second inauguration as president. At least 69 Haitians have died in political violence since September.
On the campaign front, Senator John Kerry won in Washington, Michigan and Maine over the weekend giving him victories in 10 of the first 12 contests in his run to secure the Democratic nomination for president. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean placed second in all three contests. And Congressman Dennis Kucinich placed third in Washington and Maine. Kucinich had his best showing so far in Maine where he received about 15 percent of the vote, he also received about 8 percent of the vote in Washington. On Tuesday voters go to the polls in Tennessee and Virginia.
On Friday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered an investigation into reports that at least 88 female service members deployed in Kuwait and Iraq have been sexually assaulted and denied adequate medical care and counseling.
In Russia, one of president Vladir Putin’s most unabashed critics has been missing since Thursday. The man, Ivan Rybkin is a former Parliament speaker and is running against Putin in the March 14 election. A few days before he disappeared Rybkin took out a full-page newspaper ad that charged Putin ruled by fear and described him as being "Russia’s most powerful oligarch". The New York Times reports that over the past 18 months two members of Rybkin’s political party have been shot to death in the streets of Moscow.
On Friday President Bush appointed a commission to investigate intelligence failures prior to the invasion of Iraq. Co-chairing the commission will be federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman and former Virginia Democratic Senator Charles Robb. According to Inter Press Service Silberman is a longtime Republican operative who helped orchestrate Ronald Reagan’s1980 "October Suprise" when Reagan secretly made contacts with the Iranian government before he was elected. It has long been charged that Reagan’s campaign reached an agreement with Iran not to release the U.S. embassy hostages until after the November elections. Silberman also advised Republican activists during the 1990s on strategies to pursue sexual misconduct allegations against President Clinton. Other members of the commission include Senator John McCain, former deputy CIA Director Admiral William Studeman and Yale University President Richard Levin.
In California, protests continued over the weekend against the execution of Kevin Cooper. The Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Cooper and called yesterday for the execution to be delayed until the full evidence in the case is examined. Three jurors who convicted Cooper of a 1983 quadruple murder urged his execution to be postponed. The jurors said the execution should be delayed until hair and blood evidence that was unavailable at the time is tested. Jury foreman Frank Nugent said "I’m not saying Mr. Cooper is innocent. All I’m saying is, he has the right to have evidence inspected and looked at that could exonerate him." On Friday Cooper’s lawyer Lanny Davis also released a statement from a former police informant that suggested police knowingly used Cooper as a scapegoat. Cooper is scheduled to die by lethal injection just after midnight tonight.