Saturday, July 23, 2005


John Bolton, R.I.P.

John Bolton will never be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Whether he should be or not is no longer the question. Whether the "temperament" charges against him were fair or if he was just a victim of Chris Dodd's pro-Cuba fetish doesn't matter.

It is now politically impossible. On Friday, individual clouds that had been drifting around for months -- in some cases, years -- finally merged into a media perfect storm. It is now raging. Whether he knows it or not, Bolton has been thrown overboard as far more significant players start working overtime before the ship of state begins taking on water.

Bolton arch-nemesis Steve Clemons
called it at the beginning of the month: The announced retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor effectively killed Bolton's chances -- at least at a Senate confirmation. I thought that, still -- even despite Democrats holding firm in refusing to allow cloture on the nomination (even post "Gang of 14" filibuster deal), the White House was still pushing the pick -- and seemed to be moving toward the recess appointment contingency.

But then consider what has become known -- and what new questions have arisen -- in the last 48 hours:
Richard Keil of Bloomberg News reports that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald maybe looking at testimony of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby that could be in conflict with testimony given by various journalists.

That suddenly brings into sharp focus the possibility that Rove and Libby may be facing serious legal trouble. On top of that, the Times story Friday discusses the State Department memo that clearly identified Valerie Plame (Wilson) as being undercover with the CIA -- and whether former press secretary Ari Fleischer had access to it.

Then, as Josh Marshall points out, as part of her confirmation hearings for a State Department public relations position, Karen Hughes was, by law, obligated to answer a questionnaire, that among other things, asked whether there were any legal proceedings to which she might be a be part of: She admitted that she had testified before Fitzgerald's grand jury. Marshall points out, Bolton answered "no" on the questionnaire -- though, it
turns out he also testified before the grand jury on the contents of the Plame memo.

If Bolton intentionally misled the Senate in his questionnaire, he's toast. End of story. But, that's relevant to the big picture.

The key is revealed in Clemons'
latest post: He asserts that Bolton was a major source for NYT's Judith Miller, currently incarcerated for refusing to surrender a source's name to the Fitzgerald grand jury. Now, one has to toss in a couple of caveats here: Steve, of course, has to depend on an anonymous source that somehow "knows" that Bolton was an anonymous source for many of Miller's stories.

Still, bringing it all together: DC now has two major players potentially facing legal peril, a reporter in jail -- and the most contentious confirmation process ever for a nominee to the United Nations. But the link of Bolton to Miller -- and thus to the Plame-Rove story -- is what can turn a confusing, "silly summer season" story into Washington nuclear pyrotechnics.

The other new wild card? SCOTUS nominee John Roberts.

His existence makes it impossible for the White House to recess appoint Bolton: If that were to occur, with speculation of Bolton possibly deceiving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on top of the fact that he might be the source that Miller is protecting, Democrats would go ballistic. Even Democrats supporting Roberts might be inclined to filibuster the nomination in protest.

There's no way the administration would let that occur. Many like Bolton and feel that he is important -- but not so important that they would let an appointment that could only last until January 2007 endanger a lifetime appointee to the Supreme Court and while mustering all other necessary resources on a legal-political fight involving the president and vice president's closest aides. Too much to handle all at once.

Say good night, John.

UPDATE (7/25/05, 4:30 p.m.): Welcome to Buzzflash, Washington Note and other possible readers on the center-left part of the spectrum! Yeah, I never thought I would say that!) Feel free to look around. Sorry, if you are unduly terrified by some of my views (like the fact that I am a Yankee fan and prefer DC to Marvel)-- even if you happen to like this one!

UPDATE (7/25/05, 6:00 p.m.): Just to be very clear -- given how conspiracy theories run around the Internet. Any thoughts I have on the Bolton nomination are completely and totally my own. When I wrote the post, I wasn't even aware of Joe Biden's favorable comments on my one-time boss, Newt Gingrich, as potential UN ambassador. I certainly did not speak to Newt ahead of time and certainly have no insight on what his views are on Biden's suggestion. Besides, I may be completely and totally wrong on administration support for Bolton.

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