The word is out.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will not get the much-wanted National Security Agency intercepts in which John Bolton expressed so much interest during his tenure as Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control. Under Secretaries with questionable intentions can get the transcripts — but Senators with Constitutional oversight responsibilities seemingly cannot.
Dick Cheney and John Bolton’s protectors are ever more committed to an imperial presidency — unchallenged by other institutions of the U.S. government.
Here are issues that should be considered and acknowledged when thinking about the relevance and importance of the NSA intercepts;
1. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, despite contributing in some part to the State Department stonewalling Senator Biden on evidence requests on Bolton, nonetheless SIGNED ON to the importance of the NSA intercepts — requesting that those be provided to the Committee. Lugar is now the one defied by the Bush administration. He should be angry. He has been put in the position of defending the administration and its job — but has also been committed to a fair and full investigation. If he stands by Cheney’s White House on this, he undermines his own authority as well as the Senate’s and harms the public interest.
2. These NSA intercepts have been requested for weeks — starting with Senator Dodd first calling for them.
3. Receiving and reviewing the NSA intercepts was a clear part of the agreement between Minority and Majority on the Foreign Relations Committee on agreeing that a vote on Bolton’s nomination could be scheduled for May 12th.
4. Negroponte’s manipulation of the NSA issue as an opportunity to establish new protocols regarding classified information and the Congress damages the system of checks and balances in this government. Strangely, it also undermines the administration as Bolton’s chances for confirmation are now worsened in already fragile circumstances because of the charge that can be fairly leveled that the administration is not subjecting itself to proper Congressional oversight. This gives Hagel and Voinovich, as well as Murkowski, and Lamar Alexander (we won’t mention Lincoln Chafee) an opportunity to stand up for principle rather than “might makes right.” Their responsibilities have been harmed by the White House and this process.
5. All bets are off now on Bolton. I think that a real battle could ensue over this now — with those protesting Bolton and the political tactics driving his nomination as the ones on moral high ground. To win, the White House has to brutally crush opposition among Republican ranks. To do that costs vast amounts of political capital — and ends up sending someone to the U.N. who will be “damaged goods” after this battle.
6. TWN thinks it is fascinating that John Bolton, an Under Secretary — not a Deputy Secretary or Secretary — could access with little resistance the nation’s most secret secrets, possibly to spy on colleagues, or waging a foreign and national security effort at odds with Powell’s policies, or even engaged in vendettas or personal vanity issues — and yet Senators with Constitutional responsibilities in this matter cannot see the same material he did.
Senators Lugar, Murkowski, Alexander, Voinovich, and Hagel are believers in the Republic and in their role in it. They will be cautious about yielding to administration abuse on this front — because Lugar put his own credibility on the line in requesting those NSA intercepts.
Despite Lugar’s good behavior towards the White House, Cheney has just clobbered the Foreign Relations Committee Chairman.
— Steve Clemons