By Charles Pugsley Fincher, A Spin-Off of

So many angles to the news conference today, but only one Scribble.

A Justice Department news conference was held earlier today by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and FBI director Robert S. Mueller III. Nothing really new came out though photos of Al Qaeda suspects thought to be of particular danger to the U.S. were shown. It was a sort of big time "America's Most Wanted" show.

Ashcroft made his re-elect Bush statement by giving a nod to the so-called "election threat." It's kind of a vague, creepy message with the implication that a vote against Bush is doing what the terrorists want. In contrast to the dire Ashcroft warnings, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says it's unnecessary to raise the color-code terror alert to a higher level of danger. Feel a touch of a confusion?

Twice the A.P. story mentions the political campaign context of the press conference. "The sudden warning returns the nation's attention to terrorism, the issue that President Bush has highlighted as a central them of his re-election campaign, after intense focus on other subjects like Iraq and prisoner abuses in Iraq. Bush has lost ground in the polls, falling in approval ratings to the lowest point of his presidency."

The second mention: "Some law enforcement and firefighter union representatives, supporters of Democrat John Kerry for president, suggested that the timing of the threat report was suspicious because of the polls showing a sagging approval rating for President Bush. International Association of Firefighters President Harold Schaitberger told reporters in a conference call that the intelligence has been in the government's hands for weeks."

Regardless of the big picture, there's a smaller story about which both Ashcroft and Mueller would love to regain control of the message. This week the national cops are looking bad because of their disrespect for the spirit of the Bill of Rights in arresting Brandon Mayfield as a material witness to the train bombing in Spain. This is what I focused on in today's Scribble.

Brandon Mayfield is the Muslim lawyer from Oregon who was arrested as a material witness because his fingerprints were found at a suicide bombing a continent away. Except that they weren't. Mayfield was thrown into jail for two weeks because the FBI blew its fingerprint analysis. And I thought that was something the FBI was good at. Spanish intel set them straight. The jailing is a part of, in my opinion, John Ashcroft's vision for a new McCarthy-style America. 05.26.04

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