Notes: The controversial Justice Department news conference was held on Wednesday 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.

Apparently, Ashcroft hadn't coordinated with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge who didn't raise the color-coded terror alert from its present level despite Ashcroft's dire warning. That left much of the country wondering why Ashcroft was seriously warning us that terrorists were coming to kill us if there was nothing new that would cause Ridge to raise the alert. Confusing stuff.

Many observers think Ashcroft was using his conference to change the subject from Iraq to terrorism. Bush's polls are awful on Iraq, but remain solid on terrorism. Moreover, 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 theme 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."

That's Ashcroft and Ridge in the cartoon.