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But according a committee staffer, Democrats aren’t prepared to let that happen. In a letter sent last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released last week, ranking Democrat Sen. Joe Biden warned of trouble, telling her that he had agreed to move forward on a May 12 meeting, “on my expectation…that the Executive Branch will cooperate in providing access to witnesses and documents. Assuming such cooperation, I will not seek to delay consideration of the nomination in the Committee beyond May 12, and I will urge my colleagues to do the same.”
“This thing is falling apart, and Lugar is in tough position,” says the staffer. “I’m expecting the Democrats to come out Monday or Tuesday and just blow this thing up.”
At issue appears to be a series of National Security Agency intercepts — as many as ten, perhaps more — that the Democrats have asked to view. Those intercepts were said to have been requested by Bolton in his capacity as undersecretary of state for nuclear proliferation.
The intercepts in question, according to a State Department source, contained conversations by or information about American officials. Under law such names are redacted both for privacy and security information, because the NSA under law is barred from spying on Americans. However, the NSA net is spread so broadly, it is inevitable that such material is collected. Through a process of appeal and review, and for issues of national security, some redacted sources can be identified for U.S. government officials, and Bolton apparently made such a request.
Democrats believe the intercepts Bolton sought were for political or personal reasons, not out of true intelligence concerns. Bolton was asked about his requests for NSA redacted data during his confirmation hearing, and confirmed that he had asked for a few.
Democrats believe one of the redacted names was Gov. Bill Richardson, who inserted himself during the first Bush term into U.S. negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons development and testing program. Back in early 2003, at a time when the Administration was insisting on a regional negotiation model, Richardson met unofficially with North Korean diplomats, and then called on the U.S. to meet directly with North Korea.
“At the time it was a huge embarrassment to the U.S.,” says the State Department source. “If Bolton was looking into these meetings, it’s almost certainly because of what Richardson may or may not have told the North Koreans. How can anyone question such a request if the NSA has information on that?”
Well, apparently Richardson’s Democratic friends on the Foreign Relations committee think you can.
But the Bush administration isn’t playing ball. As of Sunday afternoon, it appeared that new National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was not going to allow the Democrats access to the ten or so NSA intercepts in question. Negroponte’s refusal to sign off on the release has added considerable pressure to Lugar’s attempts to move the nomination of Bolton through.
But of even greater concern to the White House is the vote of Sen. Chuck Hagel, who was one of the Republicans to side with Democrats to delay a vote on Bolton.
According to the Foreign Relations source, Hagel has on his staff a State Department detailee who may have informed the committee that he, too, experienced Bolton’s abrasive management style.
According to the committee source, the Hagel staffer in 2003 had a run with Bolton over a failure to deliver requested material to Bolton’s office. Bolton then is said to have blocked the staffer’s request for a new assignment some months later. But interestingly enough, Bolton did not attempt to block this staffer’s detail to a high profile slot in Hagel’s office.
“That Hagel has on his staff someone who may have filed a complaint against Bolton with the committee puts him in a difficult position, and raises questions as to whether the White House or Lugar can ever move him off a no vote,” says a senior Republican Senate staffer.p> ROSEN SPIEL br> Some eyes — but probably fewer than there should be — will be on the federal trial of Sen. Hillary Clinton fundraiser David Rosen that begins Tuesday in Los Angeles. Rosen is facing federal campaign finance violations charges related to a high profile dinner and concert fundraiser for then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Senate Democratic PAC, as well as the DNC. The August 2000 event netted Clinton more than $1.4 million in funds, but cost more than $2 million to produce. /p>
Had the true cost of the event been properly reported to the Federal Election Committee as “in kind” donations, prosecutors charge, Clinton’s campaign would have had far less money to use for her Senate race. Rosen under-reported the cost by more than $1.2 million.
According to a former President Clinton and DNC fundraiser, Rosen has been under some pressure from Clinton loyalists to reach a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, to avoid what could be a highly embarrassing trial, if not to the Senator, then to former President Clinton.
This embarrassment may be arising from the surreptitiously recorded tapes of former Clinton fundraiser and current Ted Kennedy brother-in-law Raymond Reggie, who was caught up in other federal investigations and wore a wire to help build evidence against Rosen.
Reggie was a member of the host committee for the Hollywood Clinton fundraiser, as well, though he does not face charges related in that case.
“The Clintons want this case to go away as quickly as possible,” says the former DNC fundraiser. “That it involves fundraising shenanigans just reinforces the image of the Clintons they built for themselves when they were in the White House.”