Key Quotes and Passages in Three Interviews on John Bolton-Christian Westermann “Removal from Portfolio” Incident


Here is a roster of key quotations in Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff interviews held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2005 on the subject of the tumultuous interaction between Undersecretary of State John Bolton and State Department INR analyst Christian Westermann.
The interviews were with:

1. Thomas Fingar, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research
2. Frederick Fleitz, Acting Chief of Staff to Under Secretary John Bolton
3. Christian Westermann, analyst in Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Here are a number of the most important passages:

Bolton sought removal of Westermann
Mr. Fleitz: “All I can remember, and this is from Mr. Bolton, is that he spoke [to Mr. Fingar] to express his concern over what happened, and said that Mr. Westermann had lost his confidence, and he should be given a new portfolio.” Fleitz interview, p. 50, lines 10-13.
Mr. Fleitz: “Mr. Bolton expressed to Neil Silver (new office director supervising Westermann) when he met him some months later, that Mr. Westermann had lost his confidence because of this episode.” Fleitz interview, p. 41, line 25 through p. 42, line 2.
Mr. Fleitz: “While Silver was there, Bolton relayed. . .the fact that he had lost confidence in Mr. Westermann, and asked that he be given a different portfolio.” Fleitz interview, p. 48, lines 20-23.
Mr. Fingar: “[Bolton] [s]aid that he wanted Westermann taken off his accounts. I said, “He’s our CW/BW specialist, that is what he does.” He expressed again, as I remember it, that he was the President’s appointee, he could say what he wanted.” Fingar interview, p. 10, lines 17-22.
Mr. Westermann: “He was quite upset that I had objected and he wanted to know what right I had trying to change an Under Secretary’s language. And what he would say, or not say or something like that. And I tried to explain to him a little bit of the same thing about the process of how we clear language. And I guess wasn’t really in a mood to listen and he was quite angry and basically told me that I had no right to do that. And he got very red in the face and shaking his finger at me and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position, and for someone who worked for him. I told him I didn’t work for him.” Westermann interview, p. 103, line 18 through p. 104, line 4.
Mr. Foldi: “Would you like to give us your recollection of what they told you, Bolton said about your employment.”
Mr. Westermann: “Carl Ford told me that Mr. Bolton wanted me fired. And Tom Fingar told me sometime later about me being removed.” Westermann interview, p. 104, line 25 through p.105, line 4.
Mr. Westermann: “It was Neil Silver who told me months later when he showed up in INR and became my Office Director. . .since Under Secretary Bolton’s Office and the T family bureaus, they are our primary customers for the office that I work in Neil being the new Office Director wanted to get on Mr. Bolton’s calendar and introduced himself, and just say that he was available to assist him in his work.
“And what Neil told me about that conversation, which I think took him some time after he showed up to get onto Mr. Bolton’s calendar, so I think this meeting occurred sometime in September of 2002. I think. Neil told me that at the end of the meeting that he had with Mr. Bolton, Mr. Bolton took him aside and out of the blue said, and that Westermann fellow we really would like to have him removed from his portfolio and transferred.” Westermann interview, p. 105, line 22 through p. 106, line 11.
Bolton yelling and screaming
Mr. McKeon: “And when you — he threw you out of his office how did he do that?”
Mr. Westermann: “He just told me to get out and get Tom Fingar, he was yelling and screaming, and red in the face, and wagging his finger. I’ll never forget the wagging of the finger.” Westermann interview, p. 109, lines 2-7.
Mr. Westermann: “All I can say, is Mr. Bolton was very unhappy that a working level analyst had the temerity to alter language that he wanted to say. He didn’t like that, and he yelled at me.” Westermann interview, p. 111, lines 21-24.
Ms. O’Connell: “Could you characterize your meeting with Bolton? Was he calm?”
Mr. Fingar: “No, he was angry.” Fingar interview, p. 13, lines 15-17.
Clearance process
Mr. Fingar: “It’s practice rather than policy. I would say it depends what it is. The process is essentially the same for anything looking for a clearance.” Fingar interview, p. 3, lines 6-9
Mr. Fingar: “In fact, most of them (clearances in INR) don’t go through me. . .They’re handled at the analyst level.” Fingar interview, p. 5, lines 16-17, 19.
Mr. Foldi: “Do INR analysts need to clear comments with anyone in INR?”
Mr. Fingar: “No.” Fingar interview, p. 5, line 24 through p. 6, line 3
Mr. Levine: “Is it normal to object and provide alternative language?”
Mr. Westermann: “Yes, we do this all the time. Whether we do it in the process of writing the draft that goes across, or after a request for cleared language is made if there’s some particular issue, or whatever INR with its hat as a member of the Intelligence Community contributes to the process of declassifying, or changing the classification level.” Westermann interview, p. 85, line 19 through p. 86, line 2.
Mr. Foldi: “. . .I want to steer you back to the question at hand which is does INR continue to do this and is that standard operating procedure?”
Ms. Rodley (currently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in INR): “Individual analysts continue to do it. To characterize it as standard operating procedure, is I think more formal than the system that we have –”
Mr. Foldi: “Let me ask it one more way. Has INR forbidden analysts to do it?”
Ms. Rodley: “No.”
Mr. McKeon: “Has INR changed any procedures since this, or any other incidents of this kind? Changed procedures on this kind of thing?”
Ms. Rodley: “On handling language clearance requests, no not to my knowledge.” Westermann interview, p. 135, line 23 through p. 136, line 11.
Did Bolton overreact?
Question: Was there anything wrong with what Westermann did in forwarding comments on non-concurrence along with language to be cleared?
Mr. Fingar: “Well, given that, who it was, I didn’t think it was prudent to have done that. Was this something to get terribly upset about and chastise somebody? No.” Fingar interview, p. 7, lines 1-3
What did Bolton say about Westermann?
Mr. Fingar: “That he was the President’s appointee, that he had every right to say what he believed, that he wasn’t going to be told what he could say by a mid-level INR munchkin analyst.” Fingar interview, p. 10, lines 12-15.
What is the purpose of handling material for clearance?
Mr. Fingar: “[I told Bolton in an e-mail that INR] had two fundamental obligations…one was protection of sources and methods to make sure things were properly cleared; and the other was to make sure that policymakers were aware when they were going to say something that would not be supported by the Intelligence Community. . .That we owed it to him to flag that, and I thought that is what Christian [Westermann] was doing.” Fingar interview, p. 11, lines 3-12.
Why send the apologetic email to Bolton?
Mr. Branegan: “You said. . .that what Mr. Westermann did was entirely within the procedure, he was never disciplined, it was perfectly normal, that the only failure of his was lack of prudence. And then here [in the email to Bolton] you say it’s ‘entirely inappropriate,’ and ‘we screwed up, it won’t happen again.’ That seems like a rather different assessment.”
Mr. Fingar: “Well, I knew I was dealing with somebody who was very upset, I was trying to get the incident closed, which I didn’t regard as a big deal. I knew John [Bolton] was mad. I assumed, when people are mad, they get over it. So, did I lean over in the direction of “Sure, we’ll take responsibility?” He thanked me for it, at least as far as I’m concerned, in my dealings with Bolton, that closed it.” Fingar interview, p. 18, line 22 through p. 19, line 10.
Use of “does not concur”
Mr. Fingar: “If we were clearing something that was done within the Intelligence Community, that ‘does not concur’ would be one of many normal ways.” Fingar interview, p. 22, lines 6-8.
Mr. Fingar: “[W]as it necessary or prudent to say “we do not concur?” Better language clearly would have been “this doesn’t seem consistent with the most recent [NIE], make sure you take a look at the most recent [NIE],” that kind of language would have been more prudent.” Fingar interview, p. 22, lines 20-24.
Ms. O’Connell: “Has he been instructed never to use those words again?”
Mr. Fingar: “I don’t think I gave him instructions in that regard.”
Ms. O’Connell: “Did you put out guidance to the [INR] Bureau that they should never use those words?”
Mr. Fingar: “No.”
Mr. Branegan: “Were there any policies or procedures changed as a result of this incident?”
Mr. Fingar: “No.” Fingar interview, p. 23, lines 13-22.
Is Westermann competent?
Mr. McKeon: “What is your view of Mr. Westermann’s skills as an analyst?”
Mr. Fingar: “He’s a very diligent expert in his field.” Fingar interview, p. 27, lines 15-17.
Mr. Jannuzi: “Did INR keep Westermann on the account because you had confidence in his ability to perform the job well?”
Mr. Fingar: “Yes.”
Mr. Jannuzi: “So there was nothing about the incident in February [2002] that caused INR management to lose confidence in Mr. Westermann as an analyst, or in his integrity as an employee of the State Department.”
Mr. Fingar: “None whatsoever. He’s been our lead guy on several important BW/CW-related issues. . .”
Mr. Jannuzi: “Do you have any impression of how Mr. Westermann is regarded, both by his colleagues within INR and by his colleagues in the larger Intelligence Community?”
Mr. Fingar: “By everything I know, ‘highly regarded.” Fingar interview, p. 28, line 22 through p. 29, line 13.
Why did Westermann send INR comments along with Bolton’s language?
Mr. Westermann: “You see, sometimes we submit comments immediately or sometimes we wait for the demarche co-ordinator to send a response out to the whole community. And so in this case, I submitted our comments right away.”
Mr. Blinken: “Why would you do that as opposed to waiting for it to come back from clearance?”
Mr. Westermann: “Because Fred had given me the impression that they wanted this to move fairly quickly. So instead of — I thought I was adding value to the process at the time.” Westermann interview, p. 87, lines 7-15.
Did Bolton’s office subsequently use Westermann and INR?
Ms. O’Connell: “Has any of the work product from INR — has he been dissatisfied with it, or is it inconsistent with his particular views?”
Mr. Westermann: “It’s rather interesting. After this incident occurred in February 2002, just a month later I received two emails on two different subjects from Fred Fleitz saying that they were very pleased with some products that I had written and thought they were excellent support for Mr. Bolton.” Westermann interview, p. 109, lines 13-21.
Was Westermann punished by INR superiors?
Mr. McKeon: “After Fingar went to see Bolton, did he admonish you in any way for having done something outside procedures or improper?”
Mr. Westermann: “No.”
Mr. McKeon: “Did Ford admonish you in anyway?”
Mr. Westermann: “No.”
Mr. McKeon: “Did any of your supervisors?”
Mr. Westermann: “No.”
Ms. O’Connell: “How did they explain to you that you should not have contact with the front office anymore?”
Mr. Westermann: “I think they just told me that because of these troubles, problems, that I should just limit my contact. And that’s what we did.” Westermann interview, p. 116, line 16 through p. 117, line 3.

More to come.
— Steve Clemons