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First Thoughts: To release the photos or not?

To release the photos, or not to release them?... Why it’s important for the administration to get its narrative straight: because it would be FAR WORSE if discrepancies are discovered later… Panetta admits they had a license to kill bin Laden… Fact-checking shows that the “enhanced interrogations” played only a minor role in getting to bin Laden… NYT/CBS poll finds Obama getting an 11-point bounce… Mitch Daniels in the spotlight… Fodder for tomorrow’s debate: TPaw supports a decrease in the level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan… And the DNC today makes Wasserman Schultz official.

*** To release the photos, or not to release them? Senior administration officials have told NBC News that a decision on whether to release the photos of a dead Osama bin Laden will be made today. The pro to releasing them: They will provide additional proof -- to the news media, nation, and world -- that he is dead (though as we saw with President Obama’s birth certificate, extra proof doesn’t necessarily mean it will end the conspiracy theories). The con: They could inflame the Arab street and become an image others could exploit. Here is our question, however: Who is asking for the photos outside the media and a handful of U.S. politicians? Is there really doubt he’s dead? Al Arabiya is reporting, per Pakistani security forces, that bin Laden’s daughter even admits he’s dead (though she alleges he was held captive for 10 minutes before being killed). At this point, the most prominent member of the president's national security team advocating release is CIA chief Leon Panetta (as he told NBC’s Brian Williams yesterday). But most of the members of the team are leaning against, including folks that sit at the State Department and Pentagon. Ditto with key West Wing aides.

*** Getting the narrative straight: While the Obama administration is probably frustrated by the attention it has received for changing its initial story on the raid on bin Laden’s compound -- it turns out that bin Laden wasn’t armed and that he didn’t use his wife as a shield -- consider it would be FAR WORSE for the administration if news organizations (say in Pakistan, thanks to ISI leaks of THEIR interviews with those compound residents who were left behind alive) found out the discrepancies later. Even the allegation by bin Laden’s daughter that her father was held before being killed is a reminder that Team Obama needs to have its story straight as quickly as possible. The last thing they want to do is have to CHANGE their story AFTER a discovery from an outside source. They have to be able to stay ahead of this to keep their own credibility.  Better to take a small lump of youknowwhat 24 hours later than deal with cable catnip problems in a few weeks/months (see: Lynch, Jessica)

*** A license to kill: Speaking of killing bin Laden, perhaps the most newsworthy part of Brian Williams’ interview with Leon Panetta yesterday was this line from the CIA chief: The orders were to kill him. “The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if-- if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then-- they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed.” This was a kill mission; there was a VERY high bar for the Seals before they could make the determination that he should be taken alive.

*** Did the harsh interrogations play an important role? News organizations are fact-checking the assertion that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush administration helped lead to bin Laden. And the emerging consensus is that they played a small role. The New York Times: “[A] closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.” As one former U.S. counterterrorism official told NBC’s Michael Isikoff: “They waterboarded KSM 183 times, and he still didn’t give the guy up.” More: “Come on. And you want to tell me that enhanced interrogation techniques worked?"

*** Looks like Obama will be solo at Ground Zero tomorrow: As NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reported last night, President Obama invited former President George W. Bush to attend Thursday's event at Ground Zero in New York. Bush, however, declined. Yet he plans to be at Ground Zero for the 10th-year anniversary of 9/11 this September. Guthrie adds that Obama also invited former President Bill Clinton, but he is unlikely to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

*** Where’s the bounce? The day after a one-day Washington Post poll found Obama getting a nine-point bounce in his approval rating, a new two-day New York Times/CBS poll shows the president’s numbers increasing 11 points, from 46% last month to 57% now. “The increase in Mr. Obama’s ratings came largely from Republicans and independents. Among independents, his approval rating increased 11 points from last month, to 52 percent, while among Republicans it rose 15 points, to 24 percent. Among Democrats, 86 percent supported his job performance, compared with 79 percent in April.”

*** Daniels in the spotlight: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) steps into the Beltway -- and presidential-speculation -- spotlight today when he delivers a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in DC at 12:30 pm ET. The subject of the address is the education reform that Daniels signed into law, which includes expanding charter schools and vouchers in Indiana. But the subtext is the growing speculation that Daniels could enter the GOP presidential race. On FOX yesterday, per NBC’s Jason Seher, he acknowledged speaking about a possible bid with George W. Bush. But Daniels also didn’t sound like an enthusiastic candidate When asked if he would like to run for president, he gave this short answer: “No.” Daniels added he only agreed to consider running for president after "a lot of people" insisted he give it some thought. On the other hand, National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, who was part of a journalists’ meeting with Daniels, believes he’s leaning toward a run. Tonight, also in DC, Daniels will receive an award from the Arab American Institute Foundation.

*** Fodder for tomorrow’s debate: Yesterday in Iowa, Tim Pawlenty said the U.S. should try to decrease its troop levels in Afghanistan within the next two years if the conditions are right, the Des Moines Register reports. “‘I think we need enough military capacity in Afghanistan or at least in the region, so if another material threat to the United States is identified, that we can respond and interrupt it and defeat it, efficiently and quickly,” he said.” *** UPDATE *** A Pawlenty spokesman responds, "Gov. Pawlenty has always said that troop levels in Afghanistan should be determined by conditions on the ground and military commanders' recommendations. On the Governor's third trip to Afghanistan last summer, General Petreaus told him that if progress continued, we could begin to reduce troop levels in about two years. This weekend's attack shows the importance of maintaining our presence in the region and determining future troop levels based on conditions on the ground."

*** Who’s acceptable and not: A new national Quinnipiac poll measures which GOP presidential candidates the American public finds acceptable and not. On the unacceptable side: 58% said they would NEVER vote for Palin or Trump, and 42% said they wouldn’t vote for Gingrich. By comparison, just 26% said they would never vote for Romney, and 32% said the same of Huckabee. In the poll’s trial heat among Republicans and GOP leaners, Romney leads the field with 18% -- followed by Huckabee and Palin at 15% each, Trump at 12%, and Gingrich, Daniels, and Paul at 5%.

*** Making Wasserman Schultz official: At 3:00 pm ET, the Democratic National Committee meets to formally elect Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the DNC’s next chairman. She will replace Tim Kaine, who is running for Virginia’s open Senate seat.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 20 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 100 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 132 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 188 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 278 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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