John Bolton is a bad penny. He keeps coming back. As I've written before, there are plenty of reasons why he's a horrible pick to be US ambassador to the United Nations. Even if you believe the UN needs reform, you don't send a pyromaniac to fix a house of sticks. Beyond his UN-bashing, Bolton has not just been extreme in his foreign policy views, he has been wrong and reckless: accusing Cuba of developing biological weapons and Syria of posing a serious WMD threat without proof. (The CIA felt obliged to block him from testifying before Congress on Syria and WMDs.) He also has had his brushes with scandal, receiving money from a political slush fund in Taiwan and advocating for Taiwan in congressional testimony (when he was not in government) without revealing he was paid by a Taiwanese entity to write policy papers for it. (He might have even broken the law by failing to register as a foreign agent.) Recently 59 former US ambassadors signed a letter opposing Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the UN; forty-six of these ambassadors served in Republican administrations. (For a full text of the letter, click here.) Now, an alert reader has uncovered more information critical of Bolton. It just happens to be something I wrote with Jefferson Morley for The Nation sixteen years ago--a column which had totally escaped my aging mind.
Readers over the age of 40 might recall that in the late 1980s, there was a fierce fight pitting the Reagan and Bush I administrations against a few gutsy Democrats in Congress--Senator John Kerry among them--who were trying to investigate allegations that supporters of the Reagan-backed contra rebels in Central America were involved in drugrunning. Rather than cooperate in the search for truth, Reagan and Bush I officials withheld documents from the Democrats. They also badmouthed the investigations and did all they could to marginalize these inquiries as nothing but partisan-driven efforts of conspiracy-minded wingnuts. And, to a degree, the GOP obstructionists succeeded. The Iran-contra committees stayed away from the matter. The report produced by Kerry's subcommittee--which concluded there was evidence that supporters of the CIA-assisted contras were drug smugglers--received little media attention. Yet years later, the CIA's own inspector general released two reports that acknowledged the CIA had knowingly worked with contra supporters suspected of drugrunning. Kerry and the others had been right. But the sly spinners of the Reagan-Bush administrations had succeeded in preventing the contra drug connection from becoming a full-blown scandal.
And who was one of the Reagan/Bush officials who strove to thwart Kerry and other pursuers of this politically inconvenient truth? By now you have guessed it: John Bolton. Read on:
From Meese to the UN; John Bolton, nominee for Assistant Secretary of State
for International Organization Affairs
The Nation, April 17, 1989
By David Corn and Jefferson Morley
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should take a good look at John Bolton, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, a position in which he would, among other things, act as a liaison between the US government and the UN. Currently Assistant AG in the Justice Department's civil division, Bolton was known to be one of Edwin Meese 3rd's most loyal lieutenants. At Justice, Bolton developed a reputation for combativeness. When he attacked the independent counsel law, even a White House spokesman accused him of being intemperate.
Bolton's record as Assistant AG for the Office of Legislative Affairs in 1986 and 1987 merits special scrutiny. He "tried to torpedo" Sen. John Kerry's inquiry into allegations of contra drug smuggling and gunrunning, a committee aide says. When Kerry requested information from the Justice Department, Bolton's office gave it the long stall, a Kerry aide notes. In fact, says another Congressional aide, Bolton's staff worked actively with the Republican senators who opposed Kerry's efforts.
In 1986 this chum of Meese also refused to give Peter Rodino, then chair of he House Judiciary Committee, documents concerning the Iran/contra scandal and Meese's involvement in it, Later, when Congressional investigators were probing charges that the Justice Department had delayed an inquiry into gunrunning to the contras, Bolton was again the spoiler. According to Hayden Gregory, chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, Bolton blocked an arrangement by which his staff had agreed to let House investigators interview officials of the US Attorney's office in Miami. Bolton refused to speak to us on the subject.
Last year Legal Times reported that Bolton, who earned $330,000 in 1984 as a partner at a blue-blood DC law firm, had contacted several private firms hoping to parlay his government experience into a lucrative lobbying job. None were interested in a tainted Meese disciple. Fortunately for him, George Bush and James Baker are less discriminating.
That article is a blast from the past. But Bolton's truth-smothering endeavors back then are consistent with his subsequent career. He has been an ideological hatchet man, saying whatever he needs to say (whether it's true or not) to press forward his hawkish agenda. Back in the 1980s, he blocked inquiries into the CIA's involvement with drug runners. Now he complains about corruption at the UN and claims to be a force for truth and reform. As a cynical and partisan situationalist who poses as a frank and blunt idealist, he does indeed represent the Bush administration. But the nation deserves better representation at the UN.
© 2005 David Corn