Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Owen Passes, on to Bolton

The Senate approved the nomination of Priscilla Owen today, by a vote of 56-43. The vote was largely along party lines, although Democrats Robert Byrd and Mary Landrieu voted with the majority and Republican Lincoln Chafee opposed Owen's confirmation. Democrat Daniel Inouye did not vote. The roll call vote is here [Update: At some point Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, changed his vote to "Present", making the count 55-43 -- 26 May, 8:41 a.m.]. David Stout of the NYT has this report on the vote, and Jim Abrams of the AP offers this.

That hurdle crossed, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has now brought to the floor the controversial nomination of John Bolton to be United Nations Ambassador. The agreement reached means that there will be forty hours of debate, twenty hours controlled by each side, with a vote to come sometime before the end of the week (presumably on Friday).

On Wednesday morning, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (KS) sent a letter to the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee, after reviewing NSA intercepts of various American officials that Mr. Bolton had requested. Roberts and Intelligence Committee ranking member Jay Rockefeller were briefed on the intercepts two weeks ago, but were not made privy to the names of the officials whose intercepted conversations Bolton read.

In his letter, Roberts informed the Foreign Relations Committee that he and Rockefeller found "nothing within the contents of the intelligence reports in question that caused us any concern. ... I found no evidence that there was anything improper about any aspect of Mr. Bolton’s requests for minimized identities of U.S. persons. I further found no violations of procedures, directives, regulations or law by Mr. Bolton."

Rockefeller, however, refused to sign Roberts' letter, and sent a three-page missive of his own to the Foreign Relations Committee. In that, Rockefeller makes a new allegation against the embattled Bolton: that he "might have mishandled classified information by sharing with another State Department official details about a communication intercepted by the National Security Agency" on "at least one occasion." Rockefeller encouraged the Foreign Relations Committee to interview Bolton again, "to conduct a more complete understanding of the extent to which he may have shared with others."

This is quite a serious allegation. It deserves investigation.

[Update: In a new addition to his article, Douglas Jehl reports that Senator Chris Dodd "announced this afternoon that he would seek to block any vote on Mr. Bolton by the full Senate until the committee was provided with further information about his handling of the classified information." Senator Voinovich is making a lengthy speech in opposition to Bolton right now, and is being very strong in his criticisms of Bush's nominee. As soon as I can find a transcript I will post it. -- 4:12 p.m.]

[Update: Voinovich, in tears on the Senate floor, his voice cracking. Still waiting on a transcript, but let me just say, wow. -- 4:41 p.m.] [Update: Video is available here of the entire speech, and here of the emotional finish. -- 26 May, 9:28 a.m.]

[Update: Senator Rockefeller is now giving a statement, adding to the allegations that Bolton misused and mishandled intelligence information during his tenure as undersecretary of state for arms control. -- 5:12 p.m.]

[Update: Rockefeller adds to the record more about the charge that Bolton shared information about the name of an American official he received from the NSA in the context of an intercept. This name would only have been made available to Bolton, Rockefeller says, under very specific circumstances governed by strict guidelines, and would have come with an admonition not to share the name with others. Rockefeller says that Bolton, in at least one case, disregarded that warning. -- 5:20 p.m.]

[Update: Rockefeller says Bolton has "a cavalier attitude ... toward dealing with sensitive intelligence information." "When viewed collectively, these actions demonstrate Mr. Bolton's unfitness for this position." -- 5:22 p.m.]

[Update: Dodd asks Rockefeller if he thinks it's inappropriate to ask for unredacted versions of the intercepts that Bolton requested so that the senators can see what Bolton saw when he received them. Rockefeller says it is incredibly appropriate and "important" that this information be made available to the Senate. -- 5:25 p.m.]

[Update: Dodd asks if it is true that when a request such as that by Bolton is made, doesn't there have to be a written rationale outlining the purpose of such a request? Rockefeller replies that indeed, there must be a written explanation for the requests, but that the State Department has not made Mr. Bolton's requests available to anyone in the Senate. -- 5:28 p.m.]

[Update: Still Dodd, suggesting that if the administration doesn't provide the additional information that has been requested (the unredacted NSA transcripts of intercepts), he might encourage his colleagues to vote against cloture tomorrow, but adds that he does not intend to filibuster and that if cloture is invoked, he will move for a speedy up-or-down vote on confirmation. It may well be there's nothing in these requests, he says, but if they don't insist on seeing the information when there's a chance it might be relevant, they wouldn't be doing their jobs. -- 5:34 p.m.]

[Update: Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts is up now after some comments from Coleman and Allen; he says he "sure has a different take" on things related to Bolton's intelligence handling than Rockefeller does. Now he's just reading the letter that he sent to Lugar earlier in the day (discussed in the second and third paragraphs of this post, above). -- 5:47 p.m.]

[Update: Steve Clemons has posted the full text of Rockefeller's letter to Lugar and Biden here. Roberts continues reading his own letter into the record. -- 5:53 p.m.]

[Update: We seem to be back to 'more of the same' on the floor so I'm going to leave off the live-blogging here. I'll resume if things get interesting. Laura Rosen has some procedural information from a Hill source on how things are going to go tomorrow night: looks like a cloture vote will be held around 6 p.m. -- 6:04 p.m.]

[Update: The Senate is set for the night with the Bolton nomination; McConnell has filed for cloture and announced that a vote will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow followed by a confirmation vote immediately if cloture is achieved. More then, in a new thread. -- 7:10 p.m.]

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