Colin Powell’s Former Chief Of Staff Calls John Bolton An “Abysmal” Pick To Be UN Ambassador

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on Bolton’s nomination as early as today. We talk to Steve Clemons of the and John Nichols of The Nation about a series of allegations concerning Bolton abusing his authority at the State Department and Bolton’s role in securing George W. Bush’s victory during the 2000 Florida recount. [includes rush transcript]

A vote on the nomination of John Bolton to serve as President Bush”s ambassador to the United Nations is scheduled for today. The New York Times reports the top Democrat on the Committee — Joseph Biden of Delaware —–is planning to ask the vote be delayed. A series of new allegations of Bolton abusing his power at the State Department have emerged since the committee last met. Much of the two-days of hearings last week focused on allegations that Bolton threatened intelligence analysts who disagreed with him and sought to have them removed after they challenged his claims about security threats posed by various countries. Since then, reports have emerged that — during his time at the State Department — Bolton often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran. Powell was not among a group of five Republican former secretaries of state who sent the committee a letter that endorsed Bolton”s nomination. On Monday, Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson spoke out in opposition to Bolton. He told the New York Times “He is incapable of listening to people and taking into account their views. He would be an abysmal ambassador.”

During last week’s hearings, Bolton acknowledged making 10 requests, over four years, for names of U.S. officials whose conversations with foreigners were monitored by the National Security Agency.

Every Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote against Bolton. If one Republican joins them, Bolton’s confirmation will be blocked. Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island has said he is uncommitted, and over the weekend, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said he had some reservations. But the panel’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, said he expects all 10 Republicans ultimately to vote in favor of the nomination.

  • Steven Clemons, publisher of the popular political blog, He is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation where he co-directs the American Strategy Program. For seven years, Clemons served as Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Southern California and co-founded the Japan Policy Research Institute with Chalmers Johnson.

Another aspect of Bolton’s career that has been largely overlooked in the corporate media is his role in the 2000 presidential recount. John Nichols of The Nation magazine posted this in his blog “The Online Beat” last week: “Bolton was one of the pack of lawyers for the Republican presidential ticket who repeatedly sought to shut down recounts of the ballots from Florida counties before those counts revealed that Gore had actually won the state’s electoral votes and the presidency.

“The December 9 2000 intervention was Bolton’s last and most significant blow against the democratic process.”

John Nichols joins us on line now from Madison, Wisconsin.

  • John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation Magazine and author of the The Online Beat on The Nation website.

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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk further about John Bolton, we’re joined on the line by Steven Clemons. He’s the publisher of the popular political blog, He is Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, where he co-directs the American Strategy Program. Welcome to Democracy Now!

STEVEN CLEMONS: Greetings, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why don’t you tell us the latest?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, you gave a very good reprise. What has really been unfolding with John Bolton is that the vote originally was scheduled for last Thursday, and those of — those people like myself who have been working hard to try to get Bolton rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did get a delay until today and Tuesday. Every day that has gone by, another major revelation about John Bolton’s activities has emerged. And Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden are yet again going to try again today, I don’t know if we’ll succeed. But even after the vote today, if the Republicans do stay together, there are two important things. This will be the first Bush diplomatic nominee where all eight Democrats have actually voted in unison against. That’s not happened before. Secondly, we also will then go to the Senate floor and that will take some time. And I have already learned, in fact, on my blog today,, I’m posting in a few moments new allegations that have come up about Mr. Bolton’s abusive behavior and attempts to get people fired both at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which he went onto in 1993, but he was also rejected a return to his law firm, Covington and Burling by senior partners because of their concerns over his abusive behavior. So this question about serial abuse is actually more dramatic than many of us had realized.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more specifically about this? I mean, these are new revelations.

STEVEN CLEMONS: These are brand new. They have come out from people who fear retribution from Bolton if they’re out there, but what we hope to do is connect them with media. But essentially Covington … Covington, you know, was the law firm that John Bolton had served in before he became an Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice. And it’s very remarkable for someone as well connected as John Bolton to be refused entry back into a law firm in an inside-the-beltway setting where access to power — in this case it was John Bolton’s very, very close proximity both to President Reagan and the previous President Bush, as well Jesse Helms — and the law firm said no. The senior partner meetings are very secret, but we were able to get one person to talk.

Secondly, I’m still tracing down this question on this U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It’s one of these stand-alone government commissions that’s established that you get members of the commission to sort of preside over some important policy question the U.S. government is interested in. John Bolton served as a commissioner on this. But there are two individuals who apparently were harassed at great lengths by John Bolton, both of whom work at different institutions today. What’s important about this is there are two angles on Bolton that are very important. One is this surprising abusive behavior question and the lengths to which John Bolton takes his vindictiveness. That’s a workplace ethic issue and something, and it’s really struck a chord in the American public that none of us expected.

The more important, in my view, question is how John Bolton has so frequently been a loose cannon in American foreign policy. And these are the areas that I have tried to outline most, one of which you got into with the N.S.A. intercepts issue. The N.S.A. intercepts are intercepts that the National Security Agency — these are our most secret, most secret secrets in the country, and John Bolton may have very well have been spying on other officials that he worked with to get a fix on not only what they were saying about policy, but what they were saying about him. And that is — that is the big question that we don’t have answered yet. But Senator Dodd is working very, very hard to explore the ten cases of N.S.A. intercepts that John Bolton pursued.

Secondly, in July 31, 2003, John Bolton was very frustrated with the direction of the Bush Administration’s North Korea policy. We were on the eve of launching the first round of what are called the six-party talks with North Korea. And John Bolton decided to impose himself on South Korea. South Korea didn’t want to provide him a venue. Gave his speech, which had not gone through the full clearance process and essentially threw a grenade into the middle of this delicate process of negotiation with the North Koreans at that time, which was among our highest national security objectives, trying to tie down North Korea’s nuclear pretensions and ambitions. And Bolton gave this incredible speech, after which North Korean leadership called him human scum, earning Bolton’s, you know, obvious fury for obvious reasons. North Korea is not an easy country to deal with. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Bolton himself went to extraordinary lengths to sabotage Secretary Powell, Richard Armitage and our ambassador, our envoy dealing with this North Korean nuclear issue, Charles Pritchard, and was at odds frequently. This is just one case of many other cases, where Bolton’s loose cannon style was amazing.

I’ll just share you one anecdote. Brent Scowcroft the other day gave a speech at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. And ironically it was the Dag Hammarskjold lecture, Dag Hammarskjold being the first Secretary General of the U.N., and Scowcroft was asked a question about what he thought about Bolton’s confirmation or nomination. And Scowcroft replied by saying that he thought Bolton was a very smart man, someone who knew a lot about the U.N., but he says what really mattered most, and this he said to an audience listening to every — he says, what matters most are the instructions John Bolton is given and whether he can follow them. And the crowd burst out laughing, because Scowcroft had this look of just basically implying that Bolton cannot follow instructions, that he is constantly off the reservation. And so the concerns about Bolton are very, very widespread. What’s shocking is the degree to which the Republicans, Chuck Hagel, Lincoln Chaffee and others haven’t already jumped ship, because they can’t vote for this guy and then plead ignorance later about outrageous behavior that really did undermine American national security.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Steven Clemons. He runs a blog, Talking about Bolton’s confirmation hearings today, Democrats pushing hard for the vote to be delayed, but at this point, as of broadcast, Richard Lugar, the head of the Committee says they are going to be meeting, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at 2:15. Talking about these various revelations, we are also joined on the line by John Nichols. John Nichols has been looking at another aspect of Bolton’s career, and we want Steve Clemons to stay on the line with us. It has been largely overlooked in the corporate media, and that is Bolton’s role in the 2000 presidential recount. John Nichols of The Nation magazine posted this in his blog The Online Beat last week, (quote), “Bolton was one of the pack of lawyers for the Republican presidential ticket who repeatedly sought to shut down recounts of the ballots from Florida counties before those counts revealed that Gore had actually won the state’s electoral votes on the presidency. The December 9, 2000 intervention was Bolton’s last and most significant blow against the democratic process.” John Nichols on the line with us from Madison, Wisconsin. Can you elaborate on what you wrote, John?

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. As you know, Amy, because we have talked about it on the show before, a few years back, I wrote a book on the Florida recount crisis called Jews for Buchanan. And I did it after things were finished, went down to Florida and talked to a lot of people about why that process of the recount — which is really a very, very simple process, they happen, you know, on a regular basis in voting districts all over the country — blew up. And one of the answers that people all over the state gave me, and including Republicans on the ground, was that a pack of out-of-state lawyers, mostly from Washington, came in on behalf of the Bush-Cheney team and really did everything they could to delay the counts, undermine the counts, make it impossible for them to go ahead in order to get it into the federal courts with the goal ultimately of getting to the Supreme Court.

John Bolton on November 7, 2000, the day of the election, was in Korea, South Korea, which of course is a propos of the conversation we have been having prior to my coming on the show here. And Bolton flew immediately to Florida. He was put in charge of undermining the recount in Palm Beach County. And you’ll remember Palm Beach County was the place where you had so many of the chad problems, and there are pictures of Bolton, you know, just jumping into situations and forcing people to stop counts, and that stalling of the count in Palm Beach County was a critical part of the screwing up of the whole process. Then when the ballots were taken to Tallahassee, after the Florida State Supreme Court ordered a fuller recount, Bolton went to Tallahassee with them, and it was John Bolton who burst into the room on December 9, 2000, when they were recounting the ballots from Miami-Dade County, one of the most critical of the counties, and announced, “I’m with the Bush-Cheney team, and I’m here to stop the count.” Now, Bolton had no power to do that. I mean, he didn’t have the authority to stop any count. But he did it repeatedly, and he did it with immense force.

And the thing to understand, and why this is significant for what we’re talking about today is twofold. First off, during that Florida recount process, a number of people who have gone on to become very powerful players in U.S. foreign policy, were key members of the Bush team. It wasn’t just Bolton, it was folks like Robert Zellic, who is now the Assistant Secretary of State, former U.S. Trade Representative. They were rewarded very quickly with roles in the Bush Administration. But generally those roles were lower level positions. Now, those folks are moving into top international posts, or attempting to be moved into these posts. The problem with that is people around the world are often much more aware of the role of folks like Bolton and Zellic in shutting down the democratic processes in the United States. They are going to be very dubious advocates for the spread of democracy around the world. And they will be countered, as they already have been, when they push for a democratic process by folks like the Zimbabwean leadership who when criticized for the recent election said, look, we’re doing a better job than the people who are criticizing us. The people who are criticizing us actually stopped the counting of ballots in Florida.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with John Nichols, speaking to us from Madison, Wisconsin, who has been covering John Bolton in other ways. So, Steve Clemons, would you say Bush owes Bolton? He owes him?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Sure. I mean, I think this is a loyalty issue. And I think, as John laid out, these are very powerful people who I think are not the very best that the country can be sending to posts like the United Nations and others. We should be sending people with impeccable credentials who we can feel proud of, and it is being watched around the world. And we’re sending very mixed signals with people like Bolton. But these are issues of loyalty. You know, Karl Rove last night spoke where I’m at right now in Chestertown, Maryland at Washington College, and Rove bemoaned how the press sort of created this reality, that the press had somehow beaten up on Bush much more than Clinton, and there are all sorts of other realities that Karl Rove spun last night. But one of the really fascinating ones is he bemoaned the fact that we no longer talked about issues and policy and the merits of agreement and that we would just agree to disagree. And a student asked a question about John Bolton, and Karl Rove interrupted him and then just began talking about all things Bolton. But essentially, you could see behind Rove’s — you know, the illusion that he had tried to create an obsession with winning. That this has nothing to do with good policy, good public policy, good politics. It has everything to do with winning and rewarding those people who helped the Bush administration to win. And I think that that’s got to concern those people who care about the state of democracy in this country and abroad.

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, do you want to offer a prediction about what is going to happen today?

STEVEN CLEMONS: I think we are on the razor’s edge. A lot of people have been focusing on Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel. I think that there’s a chance. I think we have got about a 45 percent chance of winning today, and —- but there’s an uncertainty factor that could tilt. When we began this campaign, we had about a 2 percent chance of winning. So we have clearly moved the environment and made John Bolton known for many, many other things than his outrageous attitudes which we have not even discussed, about his view that the United Nations doesn’t even really exist in principle. But the other Senators, Lisa Murkowski, George Voinovich, Lamar Alexander, these are people who haven’t said much at all, and privately, they’re very, very concerned with some of the things they have heard. And I think -—

AMY GOODMAN: Lamar Alexander of past presidential campaign history, ran for Republican president.

STEVEN CLEMONS: That’s right. And they would have to be signing onto someone that they have heard is absolutely monstrous in his behavior towards people, in his vindictiveness towards people and his recklessness with intelligence. They would have to be saying in future elections that, yes, I knew all of these things but I virtually had no criteria for voting against this confirmation or this nomination. And basically letting George Bush be the monarch that George Bush wants to be. That we have a Senate to essentially return back to the President decisions that are not good and not within the public interests of the country. I hope that one of them gets hit with conscience when that vote comes up. And I think that we have a modest chance, better than we would have had a few weeks ago, but, you know, he may still get through this hearing, but we have a lot more to share on John Bolton before there’s ascent. You have to remember that Senator Pete Domenici, who is no liberal, actually asked Senator Lugar a couple of years ago to testify against John Bolton in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because of Bolton’s delinquency in tying down nuclear materials in Russia. This is not a guy well liked even among moderate Republican circles.

JOHN NICHOLS: Amy, if I could add.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. John Nichols.

JOHN NICHOLS: Just one important thing here is Richard Lugar is in a terrible position, because there’s a great deal of retribution and punishment to committee chairs that don’t go along with the leadership of Bill Frist and obviously the administration’s desires. Lugar himself, if you follow him, is someone who is exceptionally uncomfortable with a great deal of the administration’s approaches on foreign policy. He is much closer to John Danforth, the brief U.S. Representative at the U.N., who obviously left because of his great discomfort with how the Bush Administration was trying to make him act. What you ought to watch for with Lugar, especially, today is a critical decision, not to vote against John Bolton, but to delay the process longer. That would be — you know, although it might not seem like a big deal to folks watching or listening to this show, that would be a critical step. It would be, in my mind, Richard Lugar’s way of saying, look, this nominee has got to be stopped. I can’t do it. I’m not William Fulbright. I don’t have that flexibility or perhaps even that courage. But I understand that every day that goes by, and every day that “”:http://www.thewashingtonnote.comTheWachingtonNote and other important communication vehicles, bring out more information on this nominee makes it less likely that he will go to the U.N. So in an odd sort of way, the most critical act today may well be simply an acceptance of Biden’s request for a delay.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask a last question of Steven Clemons which is not actually on John Bolton. Steven Clemons, again Senior Fellow at New America Foundation, where he co-directs the American Strategy Program, runs, but also, Steven, for seven years you served as Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of Southern California and you co-founded the Japan Policy Research Institute with Chalmers Johnson. And I just wanted to get your take on the row that is going on right now, the all-time low in relations — maybe not all-time, but a pretty low point in relations between China and Japan. China seeing three weekends of violent protests against Japan, with many angry about a revised Japanese school textbook that they say whitewashes Japan’s wartime history. Also, China opposed to Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. In just a minute, can you explain what is going on here?

STEVEN CLEMONS: Yeah. Very virulent nationalism is being let out of the box in both Japan and China. And, regrettably, I feel that the United States is complicit in what’s going on. And just to give a very brief take on this, the United States sort of pushed Japan hard recently to state that Taiwan was part of its security concerns, and that if there was an engagement, a conflict between China and Taiwan, and the United States was involved, Japan would support the United States and support Taiwan. This is an agreement, an arrangement that has always been known privately. What mattered more recently is that America compelled Japan to make this a public articulation.

And China took great umbrage at that — at what it already knew was Japan’s policy, but the overtness of it created pressure on China to respond in kind. In addition, there is a serious effort underway, which the United States supports, to try to get Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council. And beneath this, you have a — an ongoing uneasiness and in many cases a denial of history in Japan that has continually given the Chinese, the Koreans and others, opportunities to continually hit Japan for its failure to acknowledge and reform like Germany has in some part done, for its World War II and prewar activities six decades ago. So what has come out of the box is essentially an orchestration by China to hit Japan back both for its global pretensions in the U.N. Security Council, but also because of our effort to try to get Japan to sort of declare itself in our camp more. Why is that important? Well, China’s economic activity with Japan has surpassed American economic activity with Japan. The United States is very worried that Japan will slowly and incrementally slip towards a greater affection with China. Thus, we wanted more military-oriented declarations from Japan. This has essentially upended the apple cart, and both governments are basically unleashing their people. And it’s very, very dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, I want to thank you very much for joining us. One of the founders of the Japan Research — Japan Policy Research Institute. Also, writes the blog, Thank you, as well as John Nichols.

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