KWAME HOLMAN: During the almost five weeks since John Bolton's confirmation hearing, the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee interviewed dozens of his colleagues, past and present.
Many confirmed accusations that Bolton verbally abused subordinates at the State Department and battled with superiors over aggressive public positions he took on Syria, Iran and North Korea, that on top of Bolton's general criticism of the United States during much of his career. This morning, Chairman Richard Lugar called the 18-member committee together to decide John Bolton's nomination, and he immediately let colleagues know how he would cast his vote.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Secretary Bolton's actions were not always exemplary. On several occasions, he made incorrect assumptions about the behavior and motivations of subordinates. At other times, he failed to use proper managerial channels or unnecessarily personalized internalist views.
The picture is one of an aggressive policymaker who pressed his missions at every opportunity and argued vociferously for his point of view. In the process, his blunt style alienated some colleagues, but there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Lugar had planned for his committee to vote and, he hoped, approve the Bolton nomination three weeks ago. But Ohio Republican George Voinovich asked for more time, saying he had heard enough about Bolton to give him real concerns. This morning, Voinovich said the concerns remained.
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH: It is my concern that the confirmation of John Bolton would send a contradictory and negative message to the world community about U.S. intentions. I'm afraid that his confirmation will tell the world that we're not dedicated to repairing our relationship or working as a team, but that we believe only someone with sharp elbows can deal properly with the international community.
I want to make it clear that I do believe that the U.N. needs to be reformed if it's to be relevant in the 21st Century, but it will take a special individual to succeed at this endeavor, and I have great concerns with the current nominee and his ability to get the job done.
KWAME HOLMAN: Voinovich said he also believed Bolton could have trouble effectively managing the 150 people at the U.N. mission, given his past interpersonal relationships.
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. That being said, Mr. Chairman, I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues.
We owe it to the president to give Mr. Bolton an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. My hope is that on a bipartisan basis we can send Mr. Bolton's nomination to the floor without recommendation and let the Senate work its will.
KWAME HOLMAN: Then Democrats, unanimously opposed to the Bolton nomination, took turns weighing in. Connecticut's Christopher Dodd:
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Putting aside his personality, putting aside his style, the fact that he tried to fire -- and there is just, I don't know how many witnesses you need to have stand up here to tell you that that's exactly what he did despite what he claimed to do-- he tried to fire -- fire -- intelligence analysts because they would not conform to what he wanted to say that represented the position of the United States in a public speech.
KWAME HOLMAN: Maryland's Paul Sarbanes:
SEN. PAUL SARBANES: He is quoted as saying that it is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so, because over the long-term the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States. To send someone as our ambassador to the United States who does not demonstrate a basic respect for the institution and its legal foundation is a disservice to our national interest.
KWAME HOLMAN: Delaware's Joseph Biden:
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: We have already lost a lot of credibility at home and abroad after the fiasco over the intelligence on Iraq, and Mr. Bolton is not the man to help us to rebuild it. He's the wrong choice. We can do a lot better. And I think an awful lot of our colleagues know that, notwithstanding the administration.
KWAME HOLMAN: But committee Republicans argued that John Bolton's blunt, sometimes- abrasive style was just what was needed at the United States. Virginia's George Allen:
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: I do believe contrary to my colleague from Maryland, Sen. Sarbanes that John Bolton does have the skills; he has the wisdom to effectuate these changes, more importantly he also has the principles. I think he's the right person, to unflinchingly lead those changes as our representative.
We are not electing Mr. Congeniality; we do not need Mr. Milquetoast in the United States. We're not electing Mr. Peepers to go there and just be really happy and drinking tea with their pinkies up and just saying all these meaningless things when we do need a straight talker and someone who's going to go there and shake it up. And it needs shaking up; it needs reform.
We can't just keep spending $2 billion a year of the taxpayers' money and have the sort of fraud, abuse, lack of accountability, propping up dictators, funneling money to corrupt regimes whether it's Saddam's or others'. And so I know that this has been a confirmation process that we haven't seen, at least I haven't.
KWAME HOLMAN: Minnesota's Norm Coleman picked up on Allen's criticism of the process.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: When I was a prosecutor we used to give closing arguments, I'd stand in front of the jury, and say you got to watch out for the rabbit out of the hat's trick. And what happens is that the defense would come in, they got a hat, magician's hat, they got lots of rabbits and they go running around and they hope that one member of the jury chases one of those rabbits and takes their eye off the goal, the main thing being the main thing.
So we have the rabbit of personal relations and we have the rabbit of violating procedure, and we have the rabbit of lack of candor, we have the rabbit of bad policy judgments. But the bottom line is that in each and every instance despite every measure of confidence John Bolton delivered the approved speech, he never impact maliciously impacted the career of a single employee. We could just have well have spent this time reviewing the comments made by John Bolton for those who work for him.
There's a question about whether he can put together a team or work well with others. Yet, 37 officials who worked with him at U.S. AID -- they work with him, they know him. And their judgments that that John leads in front with courage and conviction. He's direct and thoughtful in communication what he does is demand from his staff is personal honesty and intellectual clarity.
KWAME HOLMAN: A few Republicans did voice concerns about John Bolton but pledged their support because he is the president's choice. Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee:
SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE: I do want to take Mr. Chairman, Mr. Bolton at his word as to how he will perform as our ambassador to the United States. He testified under oath that, "If confirmed, I pledge to fulfill the president's vision of working in close partnership with the United Nations, and that vision is that the United States is committed to the success of the United States and we view the U. N. as an important component of our diplomacy."
SPOKESPERSON: Mr. Coleman.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN: Aye.
KWAME HOLMAN: But without the vote of George Voinovich, they were unable to send the Bolton nomination off to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. Instead, as Voinovich had requested, the Bolton nomination was moved out of the committee without recommendation.