Friday, June 17, 2005

U.S. Democrats cite British memo in Bolton fight

U.S. Democrats cite British memo in Bolton fight

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats rejected a Republican compromise over John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador on Thursday and cited a British report backing their view that the Bush administration hyped intelligence on Iraq before the 2003 invasion.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, scheduled a procedural vote on Monday to try to break the deadlock. Democrats said they had enough votes to stall the nomination until the White House turns over information they demanded on Bolton, but Republicans hoped they would be viewed as obstructionists.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid demanded a full accounting of whether Bolton exaggerated assessments of several countries' weapons programs, a key issue in the long-stalled nomination.

"All over the news the last few days has been concerns about weapons of mass destruction by virtue of the memo that was discovered," the Nevada Democrat said, referring to the so-called "Downing Street memo."

The July 2002 memo, prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said President Bush had already decided to invade Iraq and intelligence was being made to fit that policy.

"Concerns about this administration hyping intelligence and Great Britain hyping intelligence cannot be dismissed lightly," Reid said, adding that it "is no small matter for us to learn whether Mr. Bolton was a party to other efforts to hype intelligence."

Bush and his aides, including Bolton, justified the invasion by saying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were a threat to the United States, but no such weapons have been found.

Bolton met at the Capitol with top Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who told him he "needs to convince Vice President (Dick) Cheney to provide the information" they sought on preparations for testimony Bolton gave Congress on Syria's weapons and on classified National Security Agency intercepts, according to a statement from Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.

Bolton, the top U.S. diplomat for arms control and a fierce critic of the United Nations, is a favorite of conservatives and failure to get him confirmed would be a setback for Bush.


White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "some of the Democratic leaders who have already voted against John Bolton are not interested in a reasonable compromise. They are simply interested in continuing with stall tactics."

Republicans would need to pick up two more Democrats in the 100-seat chamber to get the 60 votes required to end debate on Bolton and go to a confirmation vote, if they kept all of the senators they had in a previous vote.

If they can get beyond the procedural hurdle, Republicans, who hold a 55-45 Senate majority, are confident they will have the simple majority needed to confirm Bolton.

Bush could appoint Bolton during Congress' July 4th holiday recess if the Senate remains deadlocked. That appointment would last through the end of this Senate session in 2006.

But a recess appointment would be viewed as a political retreat. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key Bolton backer, said he had not heard that suggested by administration officials.

In a bid to get more support, Senate Republicans tried to act as intermediaries to get some of the information on Bolton that Democrats are demanding, but the administration has refused to turn over.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said on Wednesday he confirmed with U.S. Intelligence Director John Negroponte that key officials known to have had confrontations with Bolton over intelligence assessments were not mentioned in National Security Agency intercepts Bolton had sought.

Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said that should answer Democrats' questions on whether Bolton sought the intercepts to spy on or punish bureaucratic rivals. Critics have accused Bolton of bullying subordinates.

But Democrats said they still did not have internal e-mails and memos leading up to testimony Bolton gave on Syria's weapons, and the information on the intercepts was inadequate.