Bolton 'Mishandled Secret Documents,' Say Senators
Senators May Try to Block Vote on Nominee for UN Post
By Douglas Jehl
The New York Times
Thursday 26 May 2005
Washington - Senate Democrats signaled Wednesday that they would try to block Republican efforts to push through a confirmation vote this week on John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations unless the Bush administration first provides classified documents that could shed light on his role in the handling of secret intelligence matters.
The Democrats outlined their stance as the full Senate began debate on Mr. Bolton's nomination. Unless the administration reverses course and hands over the documents, the Democratic position makes it possible that any vote on Mr. Bolton's nomination would be postponed until at least June 6, after a Memorial Day recess.
The Democrats made clear that they were not threatening a filibuster. But Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who have led the opposition to Mr. Bolton, said they would oppose an early end to the debate on the nomination, a step that would require the Republicans to muster 60 votes on Thursday if they wanted to bring the matter to a vote.
It was not clear whether there would be broad Democratic support for the move by Mr. Biden and Mr. Dodd. The two Democrats adopted the stance after leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued letters making public new details about Mr. Bolton's handling of classified information from the National Security Agency, one of the two main areas in which Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee have tried and failed for the past four weeks to gain access to administration documents.
The maneuvering came as senators from both parties took to the Senate floor to present their cases for and against Mr. Bolton, whose nomination has prompted intensive opposition from Democrats and at least one Republican, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio.
Mr. Voinovich presented an impassioned case against Mr. Bolton that stood in contrast to a measured testimonial from Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who was leading Republican efforts on Mr. Bolton's behalf.
Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, derided Mr. Bolton as a "conservative ideologue," a "lousy leader," and a man with "a reputation as a bully," whose nomination to take charge at the United Nations was "manifestly not in our national interest."
But Mr. Lugar said that the criticisms of Mr. Bolton were vastly overstated and underestimated his achievements during a career of government service. "We're exposing 20 years of Mr. Bolton's career to a microscope," Mr. Lugar said.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Dodd said that the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, would renew the plea to the White House.
The information sought is related to Mr. Bolton's handling of information requested from the N.S.A. and to his role in a 2003 dispute over intelligence assessments on Syria. American intelligence officials rejected as overstated testimony that Mr. Bolton sought to deliver to Congress about Syria's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
The State Department has refused to share the information, saying that to disclose documents showing the internal debate could have a chilling effect on future discussions.
The only information that has been provided to Congress about Mr. Bolton's handling of the N.S.A. intelligence came in a briefing two weeks ago by Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, the new principal deputy director of national intelligence, to Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat. If the administration refuses to provide more information by Thursday evening, and if Mr. Biden and Mr. Dodd stand their ground, Republicans, who have 55 seats in the Senate, would need votes from at least five Democrats to push through a vote on Mr. Bolton this week. If the Democrats muster 41 votes to keep the debate alive, a vote would be postponed until early June, after the Senate returns from the holiday recess.
In their letters on Wednesday, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Rockefeller provided the first concrete information about Mr. Bolton's handling of highly classified information provided to him by the N.S.A., in response to his requests. Both said there was evidence that Mr. Bolton had shared information with a subordinate at the State Department about a highly classified February 2003 report in which the subordinate was named.
Mr. Roberts sought to minimize the significance of the episode, saying it appeared Mr. Bolton had not known that the N.S.A. had requested that the information not be shared with others. But Mr. Rockefeller said it demanded further exploration.
The episode is one of 10 in which Mr. Bolton had previously acknowledged using his authority as undersecretary of state to obtain from the N.S.A. information about the identities of Americans mentioned in intercepted communications.
Under normal procedures, the names of such Americans are deleted from intelligence reports prepared by the N.S.A. to protect the Americans' privacy and can be released only upon request and after a high-level review. The names are regarded as so secret that General Hayden refused to share them with Mr. Roberts and Mr. Rockefeller.
In describing a two-week review, both Mr. Roberts and Mr. Rockefeller said they had been convinced that there was nothing inappropriate in Mr. Bolton's decisions to request the information. But Mr. Rockefeller raised questions not only about Mr. Bolton's decision to share it, but also about whether he had been candid in telling the N.S.A. that he needed the names to better understand the report from which they were deleted.
In the case of the February 2003 report, Mr. Rockefeller disclosed, Mr. Bolton had "used the information he was provided" by the N.S.A. "to seek out the State Department official mentioned in the report to congratulate him." Mr. Rockefeller said the episode "demands further attention" because it raised questions about Mr. Bolton's conduct.
Neither senator identified the State Department official involved, but Mr. Roberts said in his letter that he worked for Mr. Bolton and had been cleared to handle classified intelligence information.
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