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President Bush’s Nominees Face Tough Congressional Questions

John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and John Negroponte, the nominee for director of national intelligence, have faced intense questioning in Congress. Media correspondent Terence Smith looks both hearings.

Read the Full Transcript

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Ambassador John Negroponte showed up today for his eighth confirmation hearing in a foreign service career that has spanned four decades. His latest nomination is to the newly created position of director of national security, a job that pulls 15 intelligence gathering agencies under one umbrella. Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas gaveled the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to order.

  • SEN. PAT ROBERTS:

    Mr. Ambassador, it is my hope that you will be able to provide leadership and, quite frankly, a kick in the pants when necessary to get our collection agencies to finally perfect the concept of information access. As you know in Washington why politics and turf is a zero-sum game, just by showing up on your first day at work, you have already stepped on quite a few toes.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Then it was Negroponte's turn.

  • AMB. JOHN NEGROPONTE:

    In the past four years, our homeland has been attacked, and we have miscalculated the arsenal, if not the intent, of a dangerous adversary. Our intelligence effort has to generate better results. That is my mandate, plain and simple. Everyone knows this will be a tough job. But the things that have to be done differently will be done differently. We need a single intelligence community that cooperates seamlessly, that moves quickly, and that spends more time thinking about the future than the past.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But then Negroponte's past came into question, as some Democrats criticized his time as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. They claimed he was less than forthcoming with intelligence, and acquiesced in abuses by Honduran death squads funded by the CIA. Oregon's Ron Wyden:

  • SEN. RON WYDEN:

    I see a pattern, essentially, of you ducking the facts. And what troubles me is not the idea of re-litigating what happened in Central America 20 years ago. Nobody wants to do that, and I don't think that's constructive. But we're making a call now about your judgment, and it looks to me like you saw things through an administration-colored lens then. And what you need to do over the course of today is convince me that when you brief the president, you have this extraordinarily important duty that you're going to make sure the facts get out there.

  • AMB. JOHN NEGROPONTE:

    My punch line is, I believe in calling things the way I see them. And I believe that the president deserves from his director of national intelligence and from the intelligence community unvarnished truth.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Today's hearing later went into a closed-door session. Negroponte is expected to achieve swift approval by the committee and full Senate.

  • SPOKESPERSON:

    I am leading the witness.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved to a second day of hearings on the president's choice to be ambassador to the United Nations. Yesterday, John Bolton faced tough questions from democrats on a charge that three years ago, as a State Department undersecretary, Bolton tried several times to have a lower-level analyst fired over an intelligence dispute.

  • SEN. RICHARD LUGAR:

    Did you attempt to have him removed from your portfolio?

  • JOHN BOLTON:

    I mentioned it to Mr. Finger. I may have mentioned it to one or two other people. But then I shrugged my shoulders, and I moved on. He was not moved.

  • SEN. RICHARD LUGAR:

    So the answer is yes, you did.

  • JOHN BOLTON:

    And he was not moved, and I did not pursue it.

  • SEN. RICHARD LUGAR:

    Okay. That's all I wanted. I just wanted to make sure we're talking about the same thing.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But others say Bolton remained angry that the State Department analyst refused to clear and then rewrote language Bolton wanted to use in a speech alleging Cuba had an active biological weapons program. Carl Ford, the analyst's superior at the time, testified today.

  • CARL FORD:

    Secretary Bolton chose to reach five or six levels below him in the bureaucracy, bring an analyst into his office, and give him a tongue lashing. The attitude, the volume of his tone, and the substance of his conversation: He's a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy. There are a lot of them around here. I'm sure you've met them. But the fact is, he stands out, because he's got a bigger kick, and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he's kicking.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee raised the point Bolton made yesterday that his language had been rewritten without his knowledge.

  • SEN. LINCOLN CHAFEE:

    From Mr. Bolton's testimony, he told us that he had lost trust and confidence as a result of this incident and that his anger wasn't so much on what had occurred in the changing. It was the way it was done. It was the procedure, going behind his back.

  • CARL FORD:

    I don't exactly remember what I said, let alone what he said. But I do remember inferring from my recollections that he was still fussing about not only the way the analyst had treated him, but that he was not able to say what he wanted to say.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Delaware's Joseph Biden.

  • SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN:

    Did Secretary Bolton when he spoke to you, want punitive action taken against this analyst, this INR analyst?

  • CARL FORD:

    In my judgment, he did. I came away with the impression that I had just been asked to fire somebody in the intelligence community for doing what I consider their job.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Democrats on the committee unanimously oppose Bolton's confirmation, but so far there are no indications that any Republican is ready to defect.

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