The Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff prepared to interview former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's chief of staff today as bipartisan harmony on the committee became increasingly frayed over Democratic requests for documents, interviews and other materials related to John R. Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador.
Democrats view Larry Wilkerson, a longtime Powell aide who has been publicly critical of Bolton, as an important guide to Powell's thinking and actions about key incidents being investigated by the committee, a Democratic aide said. Alone among living former Republican secretaries of state, Powell has pointedly refused to endorse Bolton and privately told some senators he had concerns about Bolton's judgment.
John R. Bolton
In a boost for Bolton, however, Powell's closest friend, former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage, endorsed Bolton in a statement to the Associated Press. "John Bolton is eminently qualified," Armitage told a reporter as he entered an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He's one of the smartest guys in Washington."
Asked if Bolton was a good choice, Armitage replied, "It was the president's choice and I support my president."
Armitage had many testy battles with Bolton during President Bush's first term, and his positive remarks surprised Bolton's supporters. Many of the former State Department officials who have emerged to criticize Bolton are close associates of Armitage.
Meanwhile, the historically bipartisan Foreign Relations Committee has become increasingly divided along party lines as the committee staff raced to prepare for a May 12 hearing to consider the Bolton nomination. Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) has allocated five hours for debate, and staff members had hoped to complete interviews and a review of documents by today.
The vote on Bolton's nomination was delayed for three weeks when one Republican senator, George V. Voinovich (Ohio), said he needed more time to decide. Nearly 30 people who dealt with Bolton over two decades have been interviewed, some several times.
But the senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), wrote to Secretary Condoleezza Rice yesterday to warn that Democrats may seek to delay the vote if documents and other materials he had requested are not produced. "My Democratic colleagues and I would consider the failure to produce the requested documents in a timely manner a lack of cooperation," Biden said.
Lugar had written to Rice a day earlier, saying that some of Biden's requests were too broad and not relevant, and urged the State Department to focus on a few areas that he considered key to the committee's investigation. Andy Fisher, a Lugar spokesman, said Republicans believe that there is "certainly a very complete record of many of the issues that have come up" and that there is "sufficient information" to vote on the nomination. He said some of Biden's requests concerning internal debate at the State Department on Bolton's speeches were troubling to government officials because release of internal commentary might have a "chilling effect" on vigorous discussions in the future.
Rice, speaking to reporters yesterday, said the State Department has been responsive. "We have every desire to have the committee have the information that it needs," she said, adding that officials would respond "as rapidly as possible" to Lugar's requests.
Democrats are especially eager to obtain information on requests made by Bolton to learn the identity of Americans whose names were redacted in communications intercepts. Bolton made 10 such requests, out of more than 400 submitted by senior State Department officials in Bush's first term. The names are removed from intelligence reports, but senior policymakers can request the names if they want to better understand the context of the conversations.