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2005-05-13

John Bolton Suffers Setback In Bid to Become UN Ambassador

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In a rare move, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has sent the nomination of John Bolton as UN ambassador to the full Senate without an endorsement. [includes rush transcript]

The highly unusual move was the first time in 12 years that the committee has sent a nomination to the Senate without a favorable recommendation. It shifts the battle over Bolton to the Senate floor, where Republicans hold a 55 to 44 majority. Bolton’s inability to win an approval from the committee amounted to a rebuke of the White House which has campaigned strongly for his nomination.

The panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, opened yesterday’s session making clear his endorsement of Bolton’s nomination.

  • Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee

Bolton needed every Republican vote on the committee if his nomination was to be sent to the Senate with a recommendation. But it was Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio who broke with his party and denounced Bolton as unsuited for the role of UN ambassador.

  • Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)

Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, voicing his opposition to the nomination of John Bolton. Voinovich broke a committee impasse by agreeing to send the nomination to the full Senate without an endorsement. His stance was key, as a 9–9 tie vote could have blocked the nomination in committee. All 10 Republicans voted to send the nomination to the floor. All eight Democrats voted no.

Voinovich later told reporters he would vote against Bolton in the full Senate.

The action on Thursday came more than two months after President Bush nominated Bolton, on March 7. The panel delayed a vote for three weeks to study accusations that Bolton bullied subordinates and exaggerated intelligence assessments to fit his own views.

We are joined on the line now by Steven Clemons. He is the publisher of the popular political blog, TheWashingtonNote.com. He is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation where he co-directs the American Strategy Program.

  • Steven Clemons, publisher of the popular political blog, TheWashingtonNote.com. He is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation where he co-directs the American Strategy Program.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The panel’s Republican Chair, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, opened yesterday’s session making clear his endorsement of Bolton’s nomination.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Secretary Bolton has become closely associated with the United States’ efforts to reform the U.N. If he goes to the U.N. and helps achieve reform, the U.N. will gain in credibility, especially with the American people. If reform moves forward, Secretary Bolton will be in an excellent position to help convince skeptics that reform has occurred and that the United Nations can be an effective partner in achieving global security.

AMY GOODMAN: Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bolton needed every Republican vote on the committee if his nomination was to be sent to the Senate with a recommendation, but it was Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio who broke with his party and denounced Bolton as unsuited for the role of U.N. Ambassador.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: I believe that John Bolton would have been fired, fired, if he had worked for a major corporation. This is not the behavior of a true leader who upholds the kind of democracy that President Bush is seeking to promote globally. This is not the behavior that should be endorsed as the face of the United States to the world community in the United Nations. Rather, Mr. Chairman, it is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, voicing his opposition to the nomination of John Bolton. Yet Voinovich broke a committee impasse by agreeing to send the nomination to the full Senate without an endorsement. His stance was key as a 9-9 committee tie could have blocked the nomination in committee. All ten Republicans voted to send the nomination to the floor. All eight Democrats voted no. Voinovich later told reporters he would vote against Bolton in the full Senate. The action on Thursday came more than two months after President Bush nominated Bolton on March 7. The panel delayed a vote for three weeks to study accusations that Bolton bullied subordinates and exaggerated intelligence estimates to fit his own views. We are now joined on the telephone by Steven Clemons. He’s the publisher of the popular political blog TheWashingtonNote.com. He is Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation where he co-directs the American Strategy Program. Steven Clemons, welcome to Democracy Now!

STEVEN CLEMONS: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of what took place yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, just to place it in a little context, this is the sixth time in American history that such a nomination has passed out of committee, in any committee, in the Congress in this way. Clarence Thomas was one. It happened once with Ken Adelman in the Reagan administration, and there were a few other cases, and only in three of those cases did those nominations go through. So, it was really quite extraordinary yesterday. And I think, secondly, one of the things that — I have been very actively involved in this, and one of the things that was distressing to me this past weekend was on the Sunday talk shows, the pundits, that the White House engaged in very, very good psychological warfare, telling everyone that it had a sure party-line vote in favor of John Bolton, and what you began to see was the beginning of sort of a tilting defeatism among some Democrats and some pundits, you know, some good people, James Carville and others. And you know, from the people that I have been talking to in Congress I saw nothing empirically that would have led me to think that there was anything different. I actually thought that we came very, very close to getting Lisa Murkowski yesterday as well. She gave nearly as scathing a critique of Bolton as George Voinovich. And so this is a very, very fragile, fragile moment, and we kind of blew through the psych warfare stuff that the White House was engaging in, and people see this as a very fragile situation. And I actually think that the tide has very much turned our way in this. I think it’s going to be very, very hard for them to maintain their caucus, whereas I think George Voinovich has created not only the space for Americans who have problems with John Bolton’s style of diplomacy or his views of the U.N. or have concerns about his personal behavior, but Voinovich has now bucked up the Democrats who were faltering a little bit. So it really was an amazing day yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Why it’s Voinovich? Certainly when the confirmation hearing was taking place, he wasn’t the one who was being talked about. First it was Chafee, who says he will now vote for Bolton, then Chuck Hagel raised questions, but Voinovich, he wasn’t on the radar until he spoke out.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, he wasn’t on the radar for everyone. While most of the media was focused on Lamar Alexander and — I’m sorry, on Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee, the three others that were really in play quietly were Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, and George Voinovich, because their sensibilities are such that you just knew, looking at them and talking to their staff people and looking at the private comments that they were making in the states, in their own states they represent, that there was some modest discomfort. And so that played out. But George Voinovich is from Ohio. Labor relations are important, workplace relations. And he is a big advocate of just sort of decent behavior, and it was with some of his staff that I had this discussion about what kind of lesson does rewarding the kind of bullying behavior and antics of John Bolton send to America’s youth, and George Voinovich is very, very committed to this. What I found surprising through the process is the State Department was leaking to nearly everyone that they thought Voinovich was with them, that he told them that he was with them, and I spoke to a couple of his funders and people who were close to him and I said, "Anyone who thinks they know what George Voinovich is going to do is just deluding themselves." No one knows what he — he prides himself on his independence and his role as a Senator to do the people’s work. So, I’m very , very impressed by him.

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, what the corporate media does very well is talk about the politics of the situation or the personal animosities behind what’s going on, you know, why someone would take a stand. But let’s just go through the facts of John Bolton’s career. If you could talk about why this is so controversial right now. Just do a synopsis, a run through.

STEVEN CLEMONS: Yeah, just a very quick hit on some of the things. John Bolton throughout his career not only as Undersecretary of State, which was also a somewhat contested confirmation process, has regularly undermined colleagues he has worked with or has had very little respect for the separations of powers. John Bolton was a very close ally of Jesse Helms in the Senate or acted as his lawyer for Jesse Helms’s Political Action Committee, and was actually fined for some irregularities there. He later headed a nonprofit organization called the National Policy Forum, that because of its high degree of partisanship and foreign money that went through, the National Policy Forum actually had its nonprofit status stripped away. These are items that have hardly made the press.

But he has been known as being combative, incredibly difficult to work with, and the most serious concerns that people have with him is a recklessness with national security intelligence and sabotaging of Colin Powell’s diplomacy. What does that mean? When you are thinking about U.S. foreign policy initiatives, be they in South Korea or negotiating or dealing with Iraq matters, the President of the United States and the Secretary of State are the two people, the only two people who can articulate the direction and context of U.S. foreign policy. And John Bolton regularly disobeyed, undermined, sabotaged, kept memos from going to Powell, to the point where Richard Armitage assigned a small team of people to just watch every move he made to keep him in bounds.

He is someone who is known — he and his chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, a former C.I.A. official — were known to do what is called stove-piping and cherry-picking intelligence, that is, picking pieces of intelligence that fit ideologically predisposed views that they had on major weapons and WMD accusations against other countries. And Bolton in mid-2003 — I actually ran into one of John Bolton’s staff, and without mentioning the person’s name, the person said — because I was very surprised at some of the things he had said on North Korea in a setting in South Korea — and he basically said that if my boss had his way, we would be at war with North Korea right now. This is a person who has been bent on ideological crusades quite to the detriment of the Bush administration. This is why you have had eight major officials — you had the Deputy Director of the C.I.A, two Assistant Secretaries for Intelligence and Research out of the State Department, and Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation, all Republicans or people who were appointed by Republican administrations, come out and make the case against John Bolton. This is what is really unprecedented.

So there’s quite a bit — and beyond that there, of course, are the highly popularized concerns about John Bolton’s harassing and beating up and abusing intelligence analysts, not only because he is good at this kind of abuse and bad workplace behavior but in order to try to beat the intelligence operations down so that they either remove the constraints on him or they give him intelligence products that fit his views. And this is a very, very scary kind of thing, and it’s what many of the colleagues I have been working with to oppose his nomination have raised. This is not a man with impeccable credentials, and it is not a man that Americans can easily feel proud of in this position. There are lots of other people out there, lots of other Republicans. I have been suggesting Paula Dobriansky, who is a controversial person in small ways but nothing like John Bolton. There are so many other better candidates, and that’s what George Voinovich said yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: His role in Cuba and alleging weapons there?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Yes, the Cuba WMD program turns out to be — you may recall, many Americans, that John Bolton went on TV without a lot of clearance and made accusations that Cuba had an active bio-weapons program that was an imminent danger to the United States, and the country went into a tizzy about that. And what we found is a major tug-of-war between intelligence analysts, between other parts of the State Department and the C.I.A. over the accusations and public statements that John Bolton wanted to make.

And it appears, though — you know, one of the other controversies in this is that the Senate, particularly Richard Lugar, was essentially rolled over by the administration in their request for National Security Agency intercepts. These are, you know, the nation’s most secret secrets, its eavesdropping on foreign conversations and foreign officials, and there were ten sets of these intercepts that John Bolton requested to know U.S. official’s names that had been scratched out, that had been redacted from these documents. And the speculation has been that John Bolton was spying on his colleagues in matters that he was either blocked from, or that he became deeply obsessed with, in ways.

And it turns out that these documents have been withheld from the Foreign Relations Committee, but a briefing was provided to the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, and we can now tell by the witnesses that Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Rockefeller have called, that it’s very likely that the other witnesses are focusing on this Cuba bio-weapons program that John Bolton really came unhinged over and tried to have several people removed. We should remind your listeners that John Bolton said under oath in his confirmation testimony that he never tried to have anyone fired or removed from their positions, that he never had problems with any of these intelligence analysts over the intelligence product. He only had differences in terms of management questions, of people going behind his back or not following proper protocols, which is really an ironic accusation given John Bolton’s, you know, endemic behavior this way.

But John Bolton has clearly lied to the Senate, and that’s why even the support he has been able to generate in the committee has been shocking, because everyone knows that he’s lied under oath. There’s just no doubt about it. Everyone knows he made a pattern of stove piping and trying to hammer out intelligence, and he acted as a one man intelligence shop on ideological crusades, and Syria is another one of these. I won’t go into great length on it, but there’s another case where Bolton was trying to break through his shackles and undermine Colin Powell and Richard Armitage’s stated diplomatic efforts on Syria, as well. So, you know, Syria, Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, all the problematic countries, but John Bolton was at odds with the managers he worked for.

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, thirty seconds, where does this go from here?

STEVEN CLEMONS: This goes to the Senate floor, and we now have weeks and weeks and weeks ahead of holds, demands for more evidence and lots and lots of debate on the Senate floor. I think that this going to be the news story that keeps on giving. I can’t believe the White House is willing to bleed as much as it is on this nomination, but it’s going to be brutal and nasty and a close vote. We’re still at 50-50, and I think that there’s a good chance that the opponents to Bolton are going to get a victory out of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Steven Clemons, I want to thank you for being with us, publisher of the popular political blog, TheWashingtonNote.com, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation where he co-directs the American Strategy Program.

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