Unhappy W.

President Bush was furious with the staff preparation for last week’s inter-American summit in Argentina where his trade proposals ran into unexpected opposition.

The president was reported as particularly unhappy with the work by his National Security Council staff in getting ready for the meeting. That added to Bush’s distress in Buenos Aires, dealing with violent street demonstrators and hostile fellow presidents led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and including Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner.

The crowning indignity for Bush was the Friday night state dinner starting at 10 p.m., an hour when the president normally is in bed. He left the dinner early, but it was midnight by then.

Dean vs. Italians?

Joseph R. Cerrell, a leading California Democrat and prominent Italian American, has called on Chairman Howard Dean to apologize to Federal Appellate Judge Samuel Alito for Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffers saying the Supreme Court nominee was weak in prosecuting the Mafia. Dean has not replied to Cerrell’s Nov. 2 letter.

A DNC press release blasted Alito’s record as a federal prosecutor in losing “a key conviction” that resulted in members of the Lucchese crime family being freed. “The staffers and the DNC must apologize to Judge Alito and to all Italian Americans” for “scurrilous tactics,” Cerrell’s letter said. He contended “this kind of behavior is beneath any standard of the Democratic Party that I have known.”

Cerrell, a Los Angeles-based political consultant, is vice chairman of the National Italian American Foundation.

Ashcroft’s Agent

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a conservative Republican, has retained the prominent Washington book lawyer Robert B. Barnett, who secured multimillion-dollar advances for memoirs by Bill and Hillary Clinton.

A spokeswoman for Ashcroft said Barnett was hired in connection with an undisclosed book project. It is believed that Ashcroft, a former governor of Missouri and former U.S. senator, is considering a book about his four years (2001-2004) as attorney general.

Barnett is clearly identified as a Democrat. Federal Election Commission records show him contributing this year to Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Bill Nelson of Florida. In 2003 and 2004, he helped Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman. Records dating back to 1999 show no Barnett contributions to any Republican.

Confirmation Politics

Although freshman Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar has removed his hold on the nomination, former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray is still being blocked by Democrats for confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

The unidentified senator now imposing the hold is believed to be Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, who did not return this column’s call. The objection to Gray is a 2-year-old television ad by Gray’s Committee for Justice accusing senators of blocking the confirmation of Judge William Pryor because he is Catholic.

A footnote: Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte last Tuesday wrote Senate leaders pleading with them to confirm White House lawyer Benjamin A. Powell as the DNI office’s general counsel. The unexplained Democratic hold on Powell, wrote Negroponte, “is hindering necessary transformation” of the Intelligence Community.

Casey’s Caution

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey, running for the Senate as a pro-life Democrat, is maintaining a golden silence on the nomination of Judge Sam Alito even within his own party circles.

A fellow Pennsylvania Democrat privately sought out Casey’s views on Alito last week and was told the candidate had nothing to say. Sooner or later, however, Casey will have to take a stand on Alito, whose opinions on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have tended to be pro-life.

As a mainstream Democrat, Casey will be under pressure to take a critical view of Alito by liberal groups waging an all-out campaign and promising to do anything to stop him. “You name it, we’ll do it,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice.