Allegations of Bolton “Sleaze Schemes” May Change Tenor of Confirmation Debate in Senate: A Scandal Brews?


I have been scrambling on an important article spinning off of John Bolton’s time at the American Enterprise Institute, but I wanted to note two excellent articles by the American Prospect‘s Michael Tomasky.
They launch an entirely new round of questions about Bolton, his ethical make-up, and his appropriateness to serve as America’s Ambassador to the United Nations. They divulge some traces of financial sleaze in the non-profit world, not the kind of sleaze that Bolton has criticized in the U.N. but sleaze that he himself may have managed.
Tomasky’s first article gets right into the battle that has erupted on Bolton’s nomination and is quite friendly to The Washington Note. I think that this Tomasky article, which appeared this morning on the web will also appear as the lead editorial in the print edition of the American Prospect (Vol. 16, No. 4).
Taking stock of who on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will support and oppose Bolton, Tomasky quickly senses the key role Russ Feingold plays and how this vote could help or undermine his presidential aspirations. He writes:

Among committee Democrats, the most likely defection on paper looked to be Florida’s Bill Nelson, also facing his (red) state’s voters in 2006. But sources suggest that suspicious eyes are casting their glance far more toward Russ Feingold. The Wisconsin Democrat wants to seek the presidency. If anti-Bolton forces manage to wring a “no” vote out of Chafee, a “yea” from Feingold would be decisive and would send the nomination to the floor. That’s not a good way to start a presidential candidacy.

But then Tomasky gets beyond the regurgitation of Bolton’s well-known (now) Helmsian, anti-UN commentary and raises important questions about Bolton’s working past and his ethical profile.
These grafs have some new ammunition:

Meanwhile, if Lugar really wants to express his reservations in a measurable way, he might call a certain Ambrous Tung Young to testify at Bolton’s hearings. Young is a Hong Kong businessman and major GOP benefactor who donated handsomely to something called the National Policy Forum (NPF), which was set up as a nonprofit educational institute by former GOP Chair Haley Barbour in advance of the 1994 congressional elections. By 1996, the NPF had quit paying a bank loan that Young had guaranteed. According to The Washington Post, this didn’t stop the NPF’s president — one John Bolton — from authorizing the bank that held the note to start taking its payments directly from Young. Eventually, the GOP reimbursed Young for half of what he had lost, but it would be interesting to try to learn his candid views on the matter today.

I will have more to say about Bolton’s “Asian Money” problems tomorrow — but I must share a big chunk of Tomasky’s next article that appeared late today.

Did Bolton play any role in helping to conceal a foreign campaign contribution channeled to the Republican National Committee that may have helped the RNC prevail in the 1994 congressional elections?
Here’s the story. In the run-up to the 1994 elections, Haley Barbour formed an outfit called the National Policy Forum (NPF), a nonprofit policy and research institute. Barbour was the head of the RNC at the time, and he took the reins of the NPF as well.
As was widely reported at the time, the NPF was partially endowed via a loan Barbour solicited with the help of a Hong Kong businessman and Taiwanese citizen named Ambrous Tung Young. The value of the loan, from a lending institution to the NPF, was $2.1 million; Young put up the collateral in the form of certificates of deposit.
The NPF had owed the RNC $1.6 million; so, once the NPF had secured its loan, it paid back the RNC the $1.6 million it owed. This sounds all well and good — except for the fact that the NPF repaid the loan in October 1994, which, handily enough, gave the Republican Party that much more money to spend on its congressional candidates in elections just a couple of weeks away. Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives that election, and while no one’s arguing that they made those gains only because of this late cash infusion, it clearly couldn’t have hurt. There were additional allegations that the NPF was engaging in activities that were more directly political than the group’s charter would have allowed.
The story gets dirtier — and brings us to what is, for current purposes, the punch line. By 1996, the NPF had defaulted on the loan. In April of that year, the NPF sought to extend the loan’s maturity date and revise its terms. That having apparently failed, the NPF took a far more dramatic step in May, according to a June 8, 1997, article by Dan Morgan in The Washington Post. The NPF’s then-new president authorized the holder of the note, Signet Bank, to start taking its payments directly out of the certificates of deposit put up by Young as collateral — without Young’s knowledge, by all accounts.
That NPF president? John Bolton.

The tale gets seedier, and more complicated — but I agree with Michael Tomasky that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ought to get at every nano-detail of Bolton’s role in this.
Given the controversy and outrage about the U.N. Oil-For-Food Scandal in this country, particularly in Republican circles, it seems that sending anyone into the UN reform arena who doesn’t have stunning credentials when it comes to managing the public’s interest vigorously when finances and non-profit, 501c3 organizations meet would be an enormous mistake.
This story is out now — and John Bolton’s views about the U.N. are now just part of the game.
Now it’s also a question of governance, potential corruption, possible malfeasance.
Is this the kind of character that Russell Feingold would sign off on? I don’t think so. Not given Feingold’s heroic efforts on campaign finance reform. (Someone please send today’s post to Senator McCain’s staff as well).
Bolton’s nomination is not just about undermining the United Nations, or setting up a guy to compete with Condi Rice’s power base, which Dick Cheney wants. It is worse than that.
Excuse my slighlty nationalist tilt to this — but in my view, this appointment ‘should be’ about demonstrating a very high bar of American ethics and norms in a multilateral setting and cajoling and inspiring other nations to work themselves to standards as high.
The only problem is we have to send someone to the United Nations that is of irreproachable character. And that is just not the case with John R. Bolton.
— Steve Clemons