Panel Testimony on Bolton Is Mixed

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 7, 2005

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff heard praise and criticism of John R. Bolton yesterday on the last official day of discovery in the battle over his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The State Department delivered volumes of documents and other information in response to lawmakers' requests, but infuriated Democrats said key requests involving Bolton's use of U.S. intelligence were not delivered.

The committee has allocated five hours for debate on Bolton's nomination on Thursday, but Democratic aides said they will consult with lawmakers next week about whether the failure to provide all of the requested information nullifies an agreement to vote on the nomination next week. "We consider this a serious lack of cooperation," one top Democratic staffer said.

Republicans reported there have been 12 hours of hearings, 31 interviews conducted, 157 questions answered for the record, and more than 600 pages of e-mails, memos and other documents provided.

Key witnesses yesterday included Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former assistant secretary of state Otto Reich; and Robert L. Hutchings, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Wilkerson is a strong critic of Bolton, though he made it clear he was not speaking for Powell; Reich is a staunch defender; and Hutchings tangled with the nominee over language Bolton wanted inserted in speeches he made as undersecretary for arms control.

Officials involved in the investigation also provided transcripts relating to allegations by Melody Townsel, who has accused Bolton of angrily and repeatedly berating her in 1994 when she was a contract worker for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kyrgyzstan. A letter from Townsel on the allegations helped derail a vote on Bolton three weeks ago, though the lengthy transcripts provide a murky picture of what transpired during a dispute among AID contractors.

Oddly, one of Bolton's current top aides, Matthew Freedman, was also Townsel's supervisor at the time. He told the committee in an interview Wednesday that Townsel "was very creative" and "very good" but she had a tendency to "exaggerate and use language that was inflammatory." He denied her claim that he had directed her to talk to Bolton, then a lawyer handling issues for one of the companies, and said he had "no memory" of her mentioning Bolton at the time.

Wilkerson has been publicly critical of Bolton, but told The Washington Post in an e-mail that Powell "was, to say the least, surprised when I spoke out" and that the two had not discussed the matter. "I was speaking because I was concerned about my country's ability to conduct a successful foreign policy," he said, adding that he did not believe Bolton was an effective diplomat. "Bolton was, like many lawyers, smart in the letter of the law, but very lacking in any real knowledge of the wider world."

Democratic and Republican aides described Wilkerson as quite pungent in his opinions but said he did not shed light on key areas of inquiry. He acknowledged that a controversial speech by Bolton on North Korea in 2003 had been approved by relevant agencies but said then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage was furious at the clearance and asserted that his future speeches had to be cleared by Armitage or Wilkerson.

Republican aides said Wilkerson appeared to dispute policy positions -- such as Bolton's effort to win bilateral agreements on the International Criminal Court and his pursuit of sanctions against weapons proliferators -- that represented the administration's consensus. But Democrats said Wilkerson objected to the way Bolton handled these assignments, such as personalizing an effort to prevent a third term for International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Reich, a character witness submitted by the Republicans, said in an interview that he had a contentious session with Democratic aides over his testimony. Reich had been a recess appointment after he was blocked by the then-Democratic-controlled Senate.

Reich said that he -- not Bolton -- initiated the effort in 2002 to seek the reassignment of Fulton T. Armstrong, the national intelligence officer for Latin America. But he said he did consult with Bolton before sending a letter seeking Fulton's removal, saying they both agreed his analysis of Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and other hot spots "was unacceptable." But the effort failed.

Former deputy CIA director John E. McLaughlin told staffers in an interview released yesterday that he had no recollection of Bolton or Reich personally raising concerns about Armstrong. But he said he reacted strongly when a deputy mentioned the request, saying, "Absolutely not. No way. End of story." He said he did not recall any policymaker ever asking for the transfer of an analyst.

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