‘He Was Very Angry’
A U.S. ambassador is the latest to charge that John Bolton has engaged in some ‘undiplomatic’ behavior.
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
April 20 – President George W. Bush’s former ambassador to South Korea has contacted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to report two confrontations he had with United Nations Ambassador-designate John Bolton, NEWSWEEK has learned. And Senate investigators are raising more questions about how Bolton and his staff handled sensitive intelligence matters while serving as under-secretary of state for arms control and international security.
The new issues surfaced as Bolton’s controversial nomination is running into increasing trouble. In a surprise development on Tuesday, Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio-who had been expected to vote for Bolton-told his colleagues that he needed more time to review Bolton’s record, forcing the foreign relations committee to delay what had been expected to be a party-line vote to approve the nominee. Republicans Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee also raised red flags about Bolton.
Meanwhile, the White House stepped up pressure on the Senate to approve Bolton and denounced what a spokesman called “unsubstantiated accusations” aimed at the president’s choice. “I think what you’re seeing is the ugly side of Washington,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
The issues raised by retired ambassador Thomas Hubbard help flesh out a portrait of Bolton as a hard-charging, fiercely conservative official who showed little concern for diplomatic niceties and, according to critics, has long been prone to losing his cool. While not as damaging as some earlier accusations against Bolton, they are likely to be considered significant because of Hubbard’s background. A respected career foreign-service officer who served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Philippines, Hubbard was nominated by President Bush to be U.S. ambassador to Seoul in 2001 and served there until last year.
In the first instance raised by Hubbard, Bolton erupted in anger and slammed down the phone when he learned that the ambassador hadn’t arranged a meeting for him with the president-elect of South Korea during a trip to Seoul in early 2003, according to an account Hubbard says he provided in recent days to staffers on the foreign relations panel.
“He was very angry,” Hubbard told NEWSWEEK today in an interview. “He berated me for failing to get him the meeting.” Hubbard said setting up a meeting for Bolton with Roh Moo-Hyun of South Korea, was impractical because James Kelly, who was then assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, had just been to Seoul the week before and had had his own meeting with Roh, carrying a personal message from President Bush. Hubbard added that in addition to hanging up on him when he learned that he wouldn’t get in to see Roh, Bolton also refused to attend a dinner Hubbard had set up for him with other prominent South Korean dignitaries. “It was undiplomatic behavior,” Hubbard said. Bolton declined to comment on the incident.
Hubbard, now retired, said he has also challenged Bolton’s account of their dealings over a provocative speech Bolton gave about North Korea on July 31, 2003. In the speech, Bolton described life in North Korea as a “hellish nightmare” and described “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator,” comments that prompted the North Korean government to denounce Bolton as a “bloodsucker” and “human scum.”
In his recent testimony before the Senate committee, Bolton said he had “fully cleared” the speech “within the appropriate bureaucracy” and that after he gave it, Hubbard had told him: “Thanks a lot for that speech, John. It’ll help us a lot out here.”
Hubbard said that, while reviewing a draft of Bolton’s speech beforehand, he had asked the undersecretary to tone down his comments about Kim Jong Il-changes that Bolton refused to make. Hubbard said that Bolton did make other alterations to the speech as requested, primarily to correct factual points, prompting him to later say to Bolton: “Thanks for making those changes. That will help us with the South Koreans.”
But the former ambassador said he was in no way thanking Bolton for the entire speech or expressing approval of it. “He misunderstood what I said or misinterpreted my comments or mischaracterized them,” Hubbard said. When he heard Bolton’s testimony before the Senate panel on April 11, Hubbard said, “I was not pleased” and he then decided to contact the panel on his own to correct the record. Bolton declined to comment on Hubbard’s remarks about the speech.
The postponing of Tuesday’s scheduled vote on Bolton gives his critics at least two more weeks to look into allegations against him. Democrats have signaled that they want to bolster what they already consider a strong case that Bolton has engaged in a pattern of bullying and attempting to victimize subordinates-particularly career intelligence officials-who have produced analyses that conflict or contradict Bolton’s own hard-line conservative views on world events.
Congressional sources say the Democrats are already examining at least one new case in which Bolton became angry after a State Department analyst raised questions about an alarming CIA report about Chinese WMD. The report had so interested Bolton’s aides that they quickly sent a copy of it to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Before the report reached Armitage, however, sources tell NEWSWEEK, an intelligence analyst attached a note to both Armitage and the CIA questioning its accuracy.
Capitol Hill investigators now are trying to verify allegations that either Bolton or people in his office inappropriately berated the analyst for his action. Bolton also declined to comment on these allegations, but according to sources with knowledge of the incident, people in his office did complain that the analyst should not have gone behind the backs either of the CIA or Bolton. The sources claimed that Bolton was out of town when the whole incident occurred and therefore was not directly involved in the matter.
Congressional Democrats are also pressing the administration for a more detailed explanation of why Bolton requested unedited intelligence intercepts from the National Security Agency which included the names of American government officials. According to a letter that the State Department sent this week to Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, one of Bolton’s most vocal critics, over the past four years Bolton on 10 occasions requested that NSA supply him with unedited intercepts that included U.S. officials’ names. Under normal procedures, NSA, which is severely restricted from spying on Americans, is required by its own rules to edit out the names of any American citizens who are mentioned in intercepts the agency collects from its vast international network which eavesdrops on international communications and breaks foreign government codes.
Bolton opponents have speculated that Bolton might have sought the unedited NSA intercepts so that he could use them to try and promote his policy positions in the administration and undermine the positions of officials who opposed him. Administration and Congressional sources tell NEWSWEEK, however, that the State Department and NSA over the last few days have reviewed their records and discovered that since 2001, State Department officials made an estimated 400 requests for intercepts which included the names of Americans or citizens of other countries which are NSA’s partners in its international eavesdropping network, which include Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Bolton’s supporters argue that his 10 requests for such material over the last four years therefore are insignificant. Bolton’s critics say that they cannot tell whether or not Bolton’s requests for the information were significant until they have some sense of the content of the unedited intercepts Bolton had requested.
Congressional investigators are also pressing the State Department to release extensive e-mail exchanges between Bolton, his aides, and the State Department and CIA officials that Bolton tangled with regarding Cuban WMD. Before Bolton’s initial confirmation hearing earlier this month, the State Department sent the Foreign Relations Committee a sheaf of relevant e-mails which appeared to be unclassified. But the Department later sent another set of the same material covered by a classified cover-sheet, leading some Bolton opponents to suggest the administration was trying to re-classify formerly non-secret information to avoid public embarrassment to Bolton. Congressional sources say that the administration has now relented and de-classified part of the material, but Bolton’s critics who are pressing for further de-classifications expect some of the documentation to be made public later this week.
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Updated: 7:25 p.m. ET April 20, 2005
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