U.N. Nominee, Democrats Lock Horns on His Record
John R. Bolton, emerging as the most controversial of President Bush’s second-term nominees, battled charges by Democratic senators Monday that he had bullied intelligence analysts who disagreed with him and was unfit to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
During a tense daylong hearing on his confirmation, Democrats painted Bolton as too ideologically hostile to the U.N., undiplomatic and too compromised by his handling of intelligence to be entrusted with America’s top U.N. job.
“The U.N. needs reform -- lots of it,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). “But we don’t need a voice people are not inclined to listen to.”
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) told Bolton that he was “the absolute perfect person for the job” because “you’ll advance our principles and you are not going to be seduced” by the “pontificating bureaucrats” at the U.N.
In an opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton pledged “to fulfill the president’s vision of working in close partnership with the United Nations,” and cited the administration’s interest in reforming the world body.
He outlined a number of administration objectives, including spending $10 million to set up a fund inside the U.N. to promote democracy. He also said the White House aimed to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons, work with nations to combat terrorism and choke off its financing, and address humanitarian crises.
Bolton, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, responded sharply at times to members of the panel, insisting on his right to address senators’ comments and demanding that committee inquiries about his background be made public.
“Let’s put everything out,” he told senators.
The confirmation hearing for Bolton, formerly the State Department’s top nonproliferation official, will continue today with testimony from Carl W. Ford Jr., former head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and possibly other intelligence community witnesses.
Republicans have said they hope a committee vote on Bolton’s nomination will take place Thursday.
Republicans dominate the panel by a 10-8 margin. The Democrats are expected to vote against Bolton, and they were trying Monday to persuade Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island to join them in rejecting the nomination.
Chafee, who faces reelection next year in a heavily Democratic state but who is being lobbied by conservatives, has said he intends to vote for Bolton unless “something surprising shows up” at the hearing.
“I’m still listening,” Chafee said Monday.
A majority is required to recommend the nomination to the full Senate. If Chafee switched, it would create a tie and block the nomination. The committee chairman could ask members to send the nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation, but that action also would require a majority vote on the panel.
Bolton, with his distinct push-broom mustache, sat alone at a table in a crowded hearing room as he jousted mostly with Democratic senators for nearly nine hours. The hearing was interrupted by several Bolton protesters from Code Pink, a women’s peace group, whom police escorted out of the hearing room.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) played a three-minute videotape of an angry Bolton speaking in 1994 about the U.N. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, was a private citizen at the time of the speech but had served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and had been an assistant secretary of State in charge of relations with the U.N.
“There is no such thing as the United Nations,” Bolton said on the tape. “There is an international community that can occasionally be led by the only real power left in the world -- and that is the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”
The tape also included a clip used by groups in anti-Bolton advertising, in which Bolton says that the U.N. headquarters in New York has 38 stories and “if it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
Boxer said the speeches appeared to reflect Bolton’s disdain for the world body.
“I see the anger, the hostility,” Boxer said. “What we saw here, I think, was the real John Bolton.”
Boxer said 1,400 Americans worked in the headquarters building and that the 10 stories mentioned by Bolton housed U.N. programs such as ones that dealt with the response to the December tsunami, promoted disarmament and sought to end the use of children as soldiers.
Boxer said she was bewildered that Bush would nominate Bolton for the job -- or that Bolton would want it.
Bolton said the video had been selectively edited and that he was speaking to the World Federalist Assn., which believes in “world government.”
“I don’t,” he said.
Democratic senators appeared most troubled by allegations that Bolton on two occasions sought to have intelligence analysts removed from their jobs for refusing to alter their assessments.
At a time when U.S. credibility has been damaged at the U.N. and around the world by claims about Iraq’s weapons that were shown to be false, Democratic senators said the United States could not afford a U.N. ambassador who appeared to have tried to tailor intelligence assessments to his political purposes.
Bolton denied having done so.
“Failure to pay attention to reality and facts, however unpleasant they are, is extremely undesirable,” he said.
Bolton said he had never tried to have the two intelligence analysts fired. However, he told the committee that he did speak to the superiors of both analysts to say that he had lost confidence in the analysts and thought they should be reassigned.
Bolton insisted the issue was what he called the analysts’ unprofessional behavior and was not a clash over intelligence views. Committee Democrats argued that he had tried to shade the intelligence to fit his political views.
Bolton has been accused by some nonproliferation experts of exaggerating intelligence showing that regimes hostile to the U.S. were working on weapons of mass destruction, while downplaying the proliferation sins of regimes friendly to the U.S.
The first analyst, Christian Westermann, was a career intelligence specialist, a decorated former Naval officer who specialized in biological weapons. Westermann worked for the State Department’s intelligence office and was asked to approve language in a Bolton speech stating that Cuba had a biological weapons program. Bolton was to deliver the speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Westermann told Bolton’s chief of staff that the language was unlikely to win clearance from the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and suggested some alternative wording. Bolton’s chief of staff sent an e-mail to Westermann saying time was of the essence, and Westermann sent both Bolton’s language and his own to the CIA for clearance.
Bolton said he thought Westermann had “gone behind my back.” Westermann has told Senate investigators that Bolton called him in to harangue him, red-faced in anger and pointing his finger.
Bolton complained to Ford, Westermann’s boss, about a “midlevel munchkin analyst” trying to rewrite his language, according to Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). After Ford refused to have Westermann reassigned, Bolton stopped speaking to Ford.
Details of the case of the second analyst are not public. The official is an undercover CIA employee who clashed with Bolton while serving as the national intelligence officer in charge of coordinating all intelligence on Latin America.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate panel, revealed the CIA employee’s name in open session Monday -- apparently inadvertently -- and senators subsequently referred to him as “Mr. Smith.” The official may testify today in a closed session, Democratic staffers said.
Boxer said seven intelligence community officials told the committee that they believed Bolton was seeking to fire the analysts who disagreed with him. However, neither analyst was disciplined, and Westermann later received a commendation from then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Bolton said he had gone out of his way to seek intelligence from many sources, and believed analysts must give policy makers honest assessments.
“I’ve never tried to change anybody’s position through any kind of improper influence or pressure,” he said.
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.