I spoke with Senator Chafee’s Chief Spokesman, Steve Hourahan, yesterday and was very pleased with the discussion. I think Senator Chafee is now moving from the ‘passive’ and ‘reactive’ in this matter on John Bolton — to ‘proactive’ and ‘aggressive’ in trying to get to the truth about the many allegations about Bolton.
Hourahan said that yesterday morning, Wednesday, Chafee met with staff and said that he planned to get actively involved in pursuing the totality of questions and evidence on John Bolton. Hourahan stated that the Senator and his staff would now become aggressively involved in the investigation.
Hourahan stated “Senator Chafee intends to get out in front of this — to see where the evidence on Mr. Bolton takes us. It will either remove the cloud over the nomination, or the evidence and investigation will end the matter.”
This is absolutely the right course. Senator Chafee started his opening comments by reinforcing the odd notion expressed by Bolton that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had privately told Bolton that he “should hurry up and get confirmed and get to the Waldorf.” Bolton mentioned this comment during his Senate confirmation hearings. Chafee mentioned it again — saying favorably about Annan’s comment, “Well, that says a lot.”
I have chased down whether Annan will admit to saying this to Bolton or not — and the Secretary General’s office refuses to comment — and will neither confirm or deny — Annan’s comment to Bolton. What is interesting though is that another very senior member of the U.N. Secretariat expressed his irritation that people like Bolton could make such comments without much fear of being corrected. There are strict rules in the Secretary General’s office that they may not speak out against or correcting member nation pronouncements — and oddly, this Bolton comment falls into that category.
What I was told, with a trill and exaggerated voice, by this U.N. diplomat who is actually in a good position to know about most interactions between Bolton and Annan is that these were “alleged” comments by the Secretary General.
But Chafee seems to be getting ready to place himself at the lead of the pack — which is the only sensible position to be in if other colleagues like Senators Voinovich and Hagel also have deep doubts. I should say that Senators Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski are also not as solid for Bolton as many think, and their support may be crumbling.
Charles Babington and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post had this good summary of the re-crafted Lincoln Chafee position today:
A key Republican senator signaled yesterday that he is less likely to support the embattled nomination of John R. Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after a dramatic meeting Tuesday, and said he will discuss with GOP colleagues whether President Bush should withdraw Bolton’s name.
The White House, meanwhile, launched an aggressive campaign to salvage the nomination. Spokesman Scott McClellan accused Democrats of manufacturing charges to discredit Bolton and “score political points.”
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee that is weighing the nomination, “is less likely right now” to vote to confirm Bolton, his spokesman Stephen Hourahan said in an interview. The senator, he said, “wants to get to the bottom” of new allegations about Bolton’s dealings with subordinates and classified information. Until Tuesday, when committee Democrats attacked Bolton’s record and won a three-week extension to investigate it, Chafee repeatedly had said he was reluctantly inclined to vote for Bolton.
A negative vote by Chafee could deeply wound the nomination because it would prevent the committee — which Republicans control 10 to 8 — from recommending Bolton to the full Senate. With all eight committee Democrats opposed to Bolton, a Chafee defection would lead to a 9 to 9 tie at best. The nomination then could reach the Senate floor only with “no recommendation” from the committee, a dubious status that might make it easier for unenthusiastic Republicans to vote against it.
The press is making a mistake by focusing just on Lincoln Chafee and the prospect of a 9-9 vote.
What happened on Tuesday is that the possibility of a 11-7 vote against Bolton appeared. Chafee may be the first to clearly jump ship — which is the only “smart politics” if Hagel and Voinovich are likely to vote against.
Chafee counted on most Americans, particularly Rhode Islanders, not knowing and not caring who John Bolton was. The White House made the same rather cynical calculation.
That is not possible now. While Bolton is not quite a house-hold name, those interested in policy and politics realize that this is now a big-time standoff and battle. In my view, it is NOT a partisan battle and should not be. What moderate Republicans need to do is stand by conscience and use this opportunity to return to promoting sensible, principled American leadership in world affairs — that has both purpose, serious objectives to pursue, and treats other nations with dignity.
I think that Chafee has sent the right signals that he is going to investigate this issue on Bolton hard and furious — and go wherever his investigative activities take him. I hope TWN can help in that endeavor.
Likewise, it doesn’t seem likely to me that the case against Bolton will become less solid. I think that there is a tendency to “pile-on” in situations like this — and I feel that what is most important is to consolidate the case at hand. Look at the veracity and significance of new allegations against Mr. Bolton.
But the most serious and important task — GET THE NSA INTERCEPTS.
And read them. In my view, the Jack Pritchard story continues to be the most important because of Bolton’s reckless disregard for serious and fragile diplomatic efforts underway.
— Steve Clemons