Senate Democrats Delay John Bolton Confirmation Vote Until Next Week
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the Senate battle over John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after two days of heated hearings, was supposed to vote on the Bolton nomination today or tomorrow, but that vote was postponed until next Tuesday at the request of committee Democrats. They want to look at more documents about Bolton’s dealings with intelligence officials at the U.S. State Department.
For more we hear from two members of the committee: Sen. Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Sen. George Allen, Republican of Virginia. I talked with them a few moments ago from the Senate gallery.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Senators, welcome. Sen. Dodd, why are you Democrats so opposed to the Bolton nomination?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, first of all, I can’t speak for all Democrats on this, but let me tell you my reasons here. It has nothing to do with Mr. Bolton’s substantive views, although I may disagree with him on many of these issues. But over my 24 years in the Senate, Jim, I’ve never voted against anyone because of their substantive views.
Much to the chagrin and disappointment of some of my fellow party members, I voted for John Tower, I voted for John Ashcroft. I can count on less than five fingers the number of people I’ve opposed where they have sought positions in a presidential cabinet. My opposition and my concern about Mr. Bolton therefore has nothing to do with Cuba, arms control, or the United Nations. In fact, I agree with some of Mr. Bolton’s conclusions about the United Nations. I have no problem with that at all.
My concern is this: That on at least five different occasions over the past forty-eight months, Mr. Bolton, as an undersecretary of state at the State Department, tried to remove at least two intelligence analysts because they concluded different positions than Mr. Bolton wanted to express in public speeches.
In this day and age, where we know all the problems we have with the gathering of intelligence and the reliability of it, to promote someone who tried to fire two individuals because they gave an honest assessment of what the intelligence community felt was the right position on those matters, I think is wrong. I think it’s the wrong message — the wrong message to bring to the United Nations. I think it’s the wrong message to send to other intelligence analysts, that you can be promoted; you can threaten people’s jobs and get away with it. That’s why I’m opposed to it.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Allen, how do you respond to that?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Well, I think that when you look at Sen. Dodd’s record on John Bolton, he voted against him previously. And I think that John Bolton’s record in just the last several years has been outstanding. He was the leader of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
He worked to reduce nuclear warheads possessed by the Russians. He was the lead person in changing and actually getting rid of this odious U.N. resolution that likened Zionism to racism. The concerns about this particular individual, when you listen to the testimony of Mr. Ford — he wasn’t even in the room; he’s talking about finger-wagging and so forth.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ford, excuse me. Mr. Ford was one of the witnesses you all heard from –
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Right.
JIM LEHRER: — who put — he testified about what it is that Mr. Bolton is alleged to have done, right?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Correct. And in any court of law, it would have been dismissed as hearsay evidence. And the bottom line is, is these analysts are still in their jobs. And indeed, the words and the characterization of the biological weapons program possessed by Cuba and their dual-use capabilities with rogue states, all of that was the exact same testimony that they asked him to give, the same testimony that Mr. Ford gave to the Foreign Relations Committee — was the same as — that Mr. Bolton gave in the Heritage Foundation Speech.
The point of the matter is, is John Bolton, as our ambassador to the United Nations, I think he’s the right man. He’s going to scrutinize them. Yes, he has criticized the United Nations, and they ought to be criticized for their fraud, their abuse, their wastefulness, their oil for food program. And I think the taxpayers of this country would like a watchdog in there to get them reformed, have them being useful, and point out the ludicrous situations you get with countries like Syria and China and Libya on the Human Rights Commission. So, I think John Bolton, just for the credibility of the United Nations, is the right man.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to that, but — to some of the things you said more generally about John Bolton, but Sen. Dodd, what about the specific thing here? As Sen. Allen said, neither one of these two guys that you say Secretary Bolton went after, were in fact fired, were they?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: No, they were not. And so the argument is “no harm, no foul.” And that’s sort of like suggesting, Jim, that someone tried to rob a bank, got caught at it; therefore no crime. I don’t buy that. The fact that he tried to do it on at least five different occasions, to two individuals within 48 months — and by the way, there are some seven witnesses — Bush administration officials, by the way. If this had occurred on the Clinton administration with a nominee, they wouldn’t even be considered for the job, in my view.
Look what we’ve gone through here. We know that our intelligence community has suffered terribly as a result of lack of credibility, with the former secretary of state going to the United Nations, making a case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq only to be proven to be wrong. So it is very important right now that we have credible information about intelligence. If you have got high-ranking officials reaching down five levels in the bureaucracy to drag an analyst up to their office to berate them and threaten their jobs because they don’t like the conclusions about an intelligence matter, that, in my view, is dangerous.
It sends a message to people who work in these intelligence offices that “unless you go along with what top officials want, your job could be in jeopardy.” That’s what happened in this case. The secretary of state had to go down to that office, single out the individual, praise him for having done a good job, to restore some sense of confidence in that particular office.
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: That is your view of it, Sen. Dodd. And the reality is, as what we have heard, at best there are misunderstandings and misinterpretations, but the one thing that is clear is that, yes, Mr. Bolton had lost trust and lost confidence in this one particular analyst. The point is, is there is nothing wrong with that. But even if so, that he said he lost confidence and lost trust in that analyst, one, you are right. We are going to scrutinize very much in the future intelligence information and evidence that is presented to us.
But secondly, assuming all this is true, I don’t consider that to be any sort of a disqualification for Mr. Bolton. When you look at his record, and you look at what he wants to do and his ability to look out after the taxpayers, to reform and bring accountability to the United Nations, I think he is the perfect person to do so. And notwithstanding, even if some of these irrelevant, I think at best tangential irrelevancies are true, which have not been proven to begin with.
JIM LEHRER: So in other words, Sen. Allen, even if Mr. Bolton did try to get the guys fired, get these two men fired, or get this one particular man fired, as you concede, there’s nothing with that? That is perfectly within his purview?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Well, the point is, is even from their witness, Mr. Ford, he did not say he wanted him fired. He could not actually give us any specific language. He just had an impression. And I said, “was he blowing off steam?” And he said, “well, he might could have been blowing off steam.” And so there are times where all of us get upset, I suppose, from time to time, and blow off steam.
But again, from what you can actually prove that actually happened, he was not trying to get him fired. He was just — and in fact, what Mr. Bolton used in his testimony or his speech at the Heritage Foundation was exactly what they suggested to him were the appropriate words as to the level of intelligence we had. So he didn’t go off and say, “Well, I disagree with this and I’m going to use evidence or make assertions that are contrary to the evidence” that the intelligence officers provided them with very careful qualifications on some of these assertions.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Dodd, on the more general question of the effectiveness with which you believe John Bolton would represent the United States in the United Nations, what do you think about that? Based on what you know about his record, based on what he’s said in his testimony and what others have said about him?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I’d like to unscramble this egg if you could, but I don’t think I can, Jim. I mean, I think clearly this is a major question. You’re going to — our strength and our security depends obviously on having a strong military, having a strong economy, and also on our ability to have willing allies and nations join us in common global efforts, the principal one today being terrorism.
It’s going to be very important that we send an ambassador there who has the credibility to carry a message. If that individual lacks credibility because of their record here, then I think we as a nation suffer. There are many qualified people. Were it not for this particular problem, I think Mr. Bolton could probably do the job very well. I suspect he would have to listen to what the White House wanted to do. It wouldn’t be a freewheeler. At least, I assume that would be the case.
But I think this situation is so serious, that we’ve talked about here — I’ll emphasize again, 62 former ambassadors going back to the Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan administrations, as well as Clinton, have talked about John Bolton and recommended to our committee he not be confirmed here. That’s very rare when that happens, when you get that kind of an outpouring from former State Department officials of both administrations.
Carl Ford has worked for 35 years. He is a loyal Republican. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of the Defense Intelligence Agency. This is not some partisan. He said he would prefer not to have been there, and if this were one isolated case, he wouldn’t have. This is a serious man who raised serious reservations about this individual who could cause us some very serious problems at the United Nations.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Allen, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen also made a case against John Bolton this morning. He called him “a man with a manner that is abrasive, insolent, and insufferably self-righteous — not the qualities you would want in a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.” What do you think about that?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Two points, Jim. Number one, heading up the Proliferation Security Initiative, John Bolton assembled 60 nations helping us interdict weapons of mass destruction. So he has a proven record of getting countries, 60 countries together because the United Nations would not act. He was also, as I said at the outset, was the lead in getting the United Nations to delete and remove that resolution that likened Zionism to racism.
And so he has a record of performance. Now, as far as his straightforward talk, I don’t think John Bolton is going to be one who is going to get seduced by these empty, meaningless pontifications that one may get from some of these international bureaucracies. You know what? I like that.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Sen. Dodd, there’s another columnist on the op-ed page of the Washington Post today, Robert Novak, said what you’re really worried about and what you’re really up to in opposing Bolton has to do with your desire to normalize relations to Cuba. How do you respond to that?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: That’s quite a stretch, to link up the two. No, it has nothing to do with it. The fact of the matter is, it was about a report, a speech that Mr. Bolton was going give on the issue of biological weapons in Cuba. But as I said at the outset, I have supported nominees for cabinet-level positions in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations with people who I have tremendous disagreements with on substantive matters, and I’ve always supported them.
This goes — this is not about substance. I don’t have a right to pick the president’s cabinet on substance. The president was elected. His views ought to be reflected in his cabinet, not my views. The problem here is not about substantive issues. It’s about whether or not this individual has done anything that disqualifies him for the office. I think having five occasions in 48 months, tried to fire two defense intelligence agents disqualifies him for this job.
JIM LEHRER: To both of you, beginning with you, Sen. Allen, there is going to be a vote in your committee probably next week, and the conventional wisdom is, as we speak, at least, that it is going to be party line. Is that correct, according to your reading?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: If you listen to all the questioning and the comments, it looks like it will be a party line vote and Mr. Bolton will be recommended favorably by a 10-8 vote; then we’ll go to the floor and I guess this debate will continue. But and Sen. Dodd did vote against Mr. Bolton previously before all of this, and I suspect he will be an active one trying to get others to vote against him, but ultimately I think he will be confirmed and I think he’ll also represent this country and particularly our principles and the advancement of freedom and also accountability for our taxpayers’ dollars in the United Nations, very well.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Dodd, the conventional wisdom also says that you Democrats are working night and day to get try to get Lincoln Chafee, senator — Republican senator from Rhode Island, a member of the committee, to vote against Bolton, and that would put it at a tie and that would stop it from going to the floor. Is that true?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, not just Lincoln Chafee. Look, we’ve asked additional questions. There was a story in this morning’s New York Times of dealing with a national security agency in terms of certain allegations that have been raised in addition to the ones we’ve talked about here. We are getting more information about other instances involving Mr. Bolton.
I have enough confidence in my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, that between now and next week or whenever this vote occurs, that if there’s additional information that would disqualify this nominee, that people like Sen. Lugar, Sen. Hagel, my good friend George Allen here, when confronted with information that would disqualify him, despite what he’s also said here today, could easily change his view. Hope springs eternal.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. But Sen. Dodd –
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: — to go on fishing expeditions here –
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Dodd, if you lose the committee vote and it goes to the floor of the Senate, do you feel strongly enough about this to launch a filibuster to stop this?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: We are not there yet at all, for the American people to jump to those conclusions. This is a — we have a committee process to go through. Again, I have a lot of confidence in my colleagues, and I believe if I can make a strong case here, we don’t need to have a partisan vote on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thank you both very much.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Thank you.
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: Thank you, Jim.