John Bolton’s nomination ran into another stumbling block yesterday when Senator Joe Biden asked Condoleezza Rice, seemingly out of the blue, to reaffirm Bolton’s denial that he had been interviewed as part of any investigation for the past five years. At first this resulting in an unequivocal denial, but by the end of the day, the denial had transformed into a grudging admission:
John R. Bolton, President Bush’s nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, failed to tell the Senate during his confirmation hearings that he had been interviewed by the State Department’s inspector general looking into how American intelligence agencies came to rely on fabricated reports that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa, the State Department said Thursday.
Reacting to a letter from Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said Mr. Bolton had not disclosed the interview with the inspector general because Mr. Bolton had forgotten about it. Mr. McCormack said the interview, on July 18, 2003, had nothing to do with a federal investigation into who leaked the name of an undercover C.I.A. official to reporters, a potential crime.
“When Mr. Bolton completed his forms for the Senate he did not recall being interviewed by the inspector general,” Mr. McCormack said in a telephone interview Thursday. Mr. McCormack reiterated that Mr. Bolton had not been questioned by the grand jury in the leak investigation. …
In a form submitted for his confirmation hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Bolton said he had not been interviewed or asked for information in connection with any administrative investigation, including that of an inspector general, during the last five years.
I’m not naive. I know that the Democrats have had the long knives out for Bolton ever since Rice got confirmed as Secretary of State. In my opinion, the central point of contention amounts to a tempest in a teapot; no one really thinks that an interview with the inspector general amounts to anything significant. If Bolton had any involvement in the Iraq intelligence probe, he would have testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Biden wouldn’t have had to ask Rice about it.
Nevertheless, this shows a foolishness that borders on recklessness, on either Bolton’s part or that of State. If Bolton truly had not been interviewed by anyone other than the singular incident with the inspector general over the past five years, it’s hard to imagine that he simply forgot about the experience. The Iraq intelligence probe at State wasn’t just an administrative dispute, either; the political importance of that issue should have made that fairly memorable. The most charitable analysis would have us believe that John Bolton had such little regard for an issue that controversial that it completely escaped his memory … not exactly a ringing endorsement for his confirmation or recess appointment.
I have enthusiastically backed Bolton for this appointment, but the last thing this administration needs heading into a Supreme Court confirmation fight is a track record of this kind of sloppiness. It only gives ammunition for the Democrats to use in publicly questioning the veracity of other executive nominees, including John Roberts and anyone else nominated for subsequent SCOTUS openings. If Bolton has any more land mines awaiting us, clear them up now or withdraw him.