Thursday, May 05, 2005

Senators Try to Reach Compromise on Bolton probe

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), tonight privately reached out to at least one Democratic Senator, pledging that he would more forcefully press the Bush administration to comply with requests for information as the committee readies to vote on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, according to senior congressional staff. Lugar's staff has also relayed the same message to foreign policy staffers for other Democratic Senators, the same sources told me tonight.

"Everyone wants this resolved," one senior congressional staffer told me, "There is a lot more to the appearance of gamesmanship than the actual thing-- or so we hope." A senior Democratic staffer was less hopeful, but told me that there was room for a compromise and for the vote to go forward as scheduled.

The effort by Lugar to reach out to his Democratic counterparts came as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) suggested that he might attempt to delay a vote on Bolton's nomination if the Bush administration does not turn over critical documents Democrats on the committee requested last week. As things stand, the committee is scheduled to vote on Bolton's nomination on May 12.

Bolton's chances for Senate confirmation are further not expected to be advanced tomorrow morning as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee formally interviews former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson. Powell himself has previously expressed strong reservations about Bolton's fitness to serve in private conversations with two Republican members of the panel, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island, and Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska. Wilkerson in the past has been quoted as saying that Bolton would make an "abysmal ambassador" to the United Nations.

The information sought by Biden includes details of several instances in which Bolton had requested intercepts by the National Security Agency of the private conversations of U.S. government officials. There has been speculation that Bolton requested access to the intercepts to obtain derogatory information on his rivals in the the State Department and elsewhere in the bureaucracy. A Democratic staffer told me: "If what Bolton did was so routine and there was nothing sinister to going on, why don't they just turn over everything that they have and dispel everyone's suspicions? They're the ones who can put this to rest and aren't."

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Biden wrote: "My Democratic colleagues and I would consider the failure to produce the requested documents in a timely manner a lack of cooperation." Biden also underscored that he only agreed to schedule a vote on May 12 "predicated on my expectation... that the executive branch will cooperate in providing access to witnesses and documents." Implicit in his comments was a threat that Democrats might attempt to delay the vote.

In direct contradiction of what my sources have told me, the New York Times has posted a story on its website tonight reporting that Lugar has "declined to endorse a Democratic request that the State Department turn over documents" requested by Biden.

Lugar has said requests for documents by Democrats on the committee have been "extremely broad" and "may have marginal relevance to specific allegations".

The Times story also informs: "The move was a blow to Democrats on the panel, who have focused on the dispute as a central part of their effort to defeat Mr. Bolton's nomination."

So are my sources wrong if the Times story is correct? Not so fast.

Nobody really has a clue right now what is going to happen. There is a good cop, bad cop aspect to the contradictory posturing by both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, and also between the White House and the Hill. The conventions of journalism dictate that journalists speak with authority; the conceit and agenda of sources also leads them to intimate they are in the know as to what is going to happen.

So all that I am going to say here to my blog readers is that right now I have absolutely no clue what the outcome is going to be. It is next to impossible to know anything when none of the key players do either-- as they preen and posture-- in part for the media.

Perhaps it is best that the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and other major news organizations not feel obligated to report every insignificant development of this saga and similar ones... as if they were bloggers or something! In the end, we are not better informed. And if they really must behave like bloggers, perhaps they would be best served to drop the voice of authority.

I for one am more than willing to enjoy the Bolton saga for now for what it is-- a cliffhanger. Events are currently so fluid that not only does anyone know whether or not Bolton will be confirmed but even whether or not the vote on his nomination will go forward as scheduled. If anyone claims otherwise, absent a Republican Senator saying he or she will vote against Bolton, pay no attention.

Besides, cliffhangers are from my point of view-- and should be to journalists-- the desired state of being.

The indefatigable Steve Clemons of the Washington Note earlier today spoke to Lugar press secretary Andy Fisher, who told him: "We anticipate that sufficient discovery, information and due diligence will be completed in a timely manner for the vote to occur next Thursday as agreed."

That clears things up once and for all!

One of Clemons' well informed readers makes this observation regarding Lugar's press secretary's comments: "This sounds like the equivalent of a non-denial denial.

"Do we have an immovable and irresistible force? Will somebody blink?"

"How many Republicans on the SFRC really care about the perogatives and responsibilities of the United States Senate?"

Another of his readers posted this comment: "The clock is ticking and the suspense mounts."

And what is so wrong about that?

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