Bolton faces tough questioning from Democrats

McClatchy Newspapers
April 11, 2005

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats on Monday grilled John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, charging he displayed open hostility over many years to the world body and raising allegations that he pressured intelligence analysts to toughen their opinion on Cuba's possession of biological weapons.

Bolton, currently undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, acknowledged that he trid to remove a State Department analyst, Christian Westermann, from responsibility for assessing Cuba's weapons program, but he said he did not try to get him fired from government service.

Bolton, 56, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he tried to force a change in Westermann's assignment, or "portfolio," because he felt that the analyst had "gone behind my back" in sending out Bolton's proposed language on Cuba to other government intelligence analysts for their reaction.

Instead of circulating Bolton's proposed remarks in a manner Democrats said was routine, Westermann "could have come to my office, to my staff, and said, look, let's work this out," Bolton said.

But Bolton denied he intended to pressure Westermann and an unnamed CIA employee, into changing their opinions to support a tough anti-Cuba speech he wished to deliver to a conservative Washington forum.

Senate Democrats said Bolton's actions suggested a pattern by Bush administration officials of leaning on career analysts to generate intelligence assessments that matched the White house's political goals, but were not honest.

In hammering Bolton, Democrats repeatedly pointed to claims by administration officials before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, claims several postwar studies have shown to be wrong.

Bolton acknowledged that he criticized Westerman because he was irritated Westerman checked Bolton's proposed statement on Cuba with other members of the intelligence community.

"I lost trust and confidence in the fellow," Bolton said. "I didn't try to fire him. But I thought he should have other responsibilities."

Despite Bolton's criticism, Westerman's State Department bosses kept him on the job. Beyond that, intelligence officials refused to allow Bolton to make the harsh criticism of Cuba he sought to deliver.

Senate Democrats said they can produce government employees who will testify under oath that Bolton angrily demanded that they take away Westerman's "portfolio."

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said that at least one of the government officials - all of whom were ranked below Bolton in the State Department hierarchy - would be called as a witness Tuesday.

Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee are expected to vote against Bolton's confirmation. The committee has 10 Republicans and eight Democrats. If the Democrats could attract one Republican vote, they could block Bolton's nomination, at least temporarily. A second vote, which would require a majority, could then be held on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation.

One committee Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, told reporters Monday that Bolton "would not be my choice for the nominee," although he said he was "inclined" to vote for Bolton.

Republican Sen. George Allen, R-Va., attacked Democrats for putting so much emphasis on the Cuba speech. He said that Bush picked the "perfect person" for the U.N. role in Bolton.

In the speech on Cuba, Bolton apparently wanted to say that Cuba had a biological weapons capacity and that it was exporting it to other nations. The intelligence analysts seemed to want to limit the assessment to a declaration that Cuba "could" develop such weapons.

According to Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Democrats have government employees who will say that Bolton was angry, red-faced and pointing a finger when he insisted that Westerman be removed from his position.

Bolton, long a critic of the United Nations both inside the government and outside as a think tank analyst, said he wants to speak for the Bush administration at the world body to help reform the institution in a way that will "restore confidence" and end "skepticism that too many feel about the U.N. system."

"Walking away from the United Nations is not an option," Bolton declared in his confirmation hearing.

"The United States is committed to the success of the United Nations, and we view the U.N. as an important component of our diplomacy," Bolton said. "If confirmed, I look forward to working closely with this committee to forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations, which depends critically on American leadership."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., led the charge that Bolton had for years spoken dismissively of the value of the United Nations. She played a tape of a Bolton speech in the 1990s in which he talked about cutting off the upper 10 floors of the 38-story U.N. headquarters in New York. Boxer said those 10 floors contained U.N. agencies dealing with human rights, disarmament and mistreatment of children.

Boxer told Bolton that when she observes him she "sees an anger, a hostility. No one would ever dream of saying if 10 floors of a building were to disappear. I mean, I wonder if he thought about the fact that 1,400 Americans work in the U.N."

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)