Bolton Nomination is Toast
John Bolton was such a loose cannon that his boss at the State Department ordered that any public statements he made first be cleared through him, according to a report in today’s New York Times.
A new portrayal of John R. Bolton describes him as having so angered senior State Department officials with his public comments that the deputy secretary of state, Richard L. Armitage, ordered two years ago that Mr. Bolton be blocked from delivering speeches and testimony unless they were personally approved by Mr. Armitage.
The detailed account was provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Lawrence S. Wilkerson, a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Wilkerson said that Mr. Bolton, who was then an under secretary of state, had caused “problems” by speaking out on North Korea, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other delicate issues in remarks that had not been properly cleared. “Therefore, the deputy made a decision, and communicated that decision to me, that John Bolton would not give any testimony, nor would he give any speech, that wasn’t cleared first by Rich,” Mr. Wilkerson said, according to a transcript of an hourlong interview with members of the committee staff last Thursday. In an e-mail message on Monday, Mr. Wilkerson said of the restrictions imposed on Mr. Bolton that “if anything, they got more stringent” as time went on. “No one else was subjected to these tight restrictions,” he said.
The Senate committee is to vote Thursday on Mr. Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, and the Republican chairman, Richard G. Lugar, has said he believes that the nomination will be sent to the Senate floor on a 10-to-8 vote, along party lines. But only on Monday, after a 10-day recess, were senators beginning to review the documents and interview transcripts assembled by the staff over the past three weeks.
Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who was Mr. Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to early 2005, was among the last of more than 30 witnesses to be interviewed by the committee staff. The transcript shows that Mr. Wilkerson made clear that he was speaking for himself, not for Mr. Powell or Mr. Armitage.
If Wilkerson’s testimony is accurate–and there is no reason to believe otherwise–it’s inconceivable that Bolton will be confirmed. Indeed, it’s baffling that he has flourished as long as he has, continually getting higher level appointments and easy Senate confirmation until now.
While this in one sense merely corroborates a long string of reports that Bolton has a prickly personality and plays hardball if he doesn’t get his way, this goes deeper than previous accounts. Heretofore, the charges basically amounted to “Bolton is an asshole.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing and, certainly, there have been people of that description who have risen to the top of bureaucracies. This says, “Bolton’s judgment can’t be trusted.” If that’s the case, he can’t be our voice at the U.N.