NOT AN ISOLATED VIEW
Last week, Democratic Senate Leader, Sen. Harry Reid spoke to a group of Nevada high schoolers about the filibuster controversy. In doing so, he let slip about President Bush what he and other Democrats have been saying privately for months, if not years. “The man’s father is a wonderful human being,” Reid said in response to a question about President Bush. “I think this guy is a loser.”
At that point, the students began to laugh. Seemingly emboldened, Reid blurted, “I think President Bush is doing a bad job. He’s driving this country into bankruptcy. He’s got us in this intractable war in Iraq where we now have about 1,600 American soldiers dead and another 15,000 injured.”
Almost immediately after the meeting, Reid staffers informed him that he had made a tactical error.
“The problem is, Reid and guys like Dodd, Kennedy, Biden and others have been talking like this forever. They say even worse in private meetings,” says a Senate Democratic leadership staffer. “I think it is becoming so familiar that it is bleeding out into their public discourse. In this situation, I don’t think the leader was even aware that he said it.”
To be sure, the harrumphing about Bush has been going on for quite a while. But some Republicans aren’t so sure it isn’t intentional. “I’ve heard that they are looking to try to diminish the President as much as possible,” says a senior Republican Senate official, of his Democratic counterparts. “They meet in caucus and rail against him, his intelligence, his political instincts. I think they believe if they insult him enough, reduce him to caricature, then the media will play along and it will affect the public perception.”
According to another Democratic leadership staffer, Reid’s comments were in line with remarks other Democrats have uttered before young people. “We have talked about these kinds of settings,” says the aide. “These young people are more likely to buy into the MoveOn.org ideology. They are more likely to go to left-leaning websites. They certainly turn to The Daily Show for information. These are the people who will be voting for us next time around, and we need to line our views up with theirs so they mesh for the long-term. That Reid said that stuff just confirmed in their own minds that the Democrats think like they do, which is a good thing.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar announced last week that there would be a committee meeting and a vote on U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton on Thursday, May 12.
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.
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.
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.”
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