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Executive Session

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Location: Washington, DC


EXECUTIVE SESSION

NOMINATION OF JOHN ROBERT BOLTON TO BE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO THE UNITED NATIONS--Resumed

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I state at the outset that the vote we are about to take is not about John Bolton. The vote we are about to take is about taking a stand--about the Senate taking a stand. The vote is about whether the Senate will allow the President to dictate to a coequal branch of Government how we, the Senate, are to fulfill our constitutional responsibility under the advice and consent clause. It is that basic. I believe it is totally unacceptable for the President of the United States, Democrat or Republican--and both have tried--to dictate to the Senate how he, the President, thinks we should proceed.

The fact that the President of the United States in this case says he does not believe the information we seek is relevant to our fulfilling our constitutional responsibility is somewhat presumptuous, to say the least. I am aware--as we all are on both sides of the aisle--of the sometimes admirable but most times excessive obsession with secrecy on the part of this administration. But notwithstanding that, we should not forfeit our responsibility in order to accommodate that obsession.

I do not hold John Bolton accountable for this administration's arrogance. John Bolton was gentleman enough to come see me. At the request of the Senator from Arizona, Mr. McCain, who contacted me, I said I would be willing to sit with John Bolton last week and speak with him about what we were seeking and why we were seeking it. I did that. As a matter of fact, one of my colleagues, the Senator from Connecticut--although it wasn't his idea, and I caught him on the way to have dinner with his brother--was kind enough to come and sit with me and listen to John Bolton.

I believe Mr. Bolton would be prepared to give us this information. Whether that is true is, quite frankly, irrelevant, because the fact is we both told Mr. Bolton this dispute about the documents is not about him. I say to my colleague from Indiana, this is above his pay grade. He indicated under oath in our committee hearing that he was willing to let all of this information come forward. So I actually went to the extent of sitting with Mr. Bolton and suggesting how, as it related to a matter on which I have been the lead horse--on Syria--we could accommodate an even further narrowing and detailing of the information we are seeking and why.

Last month, after the Senate stood up for itself and rejected cloture on the Bolton nomination, the Democratic leader and I both promised publicly--and today I pledge again--that once the administration provides the information we have requested and information that no one thus far has suggested we are not entitled to--we will agree to vote up or down on the Bolton nomination.

At the outset, it should be emphasized that these are not--and I emphasize ``not''--new requests made at the 11th hour to attempt to derail a vote. Nobody is moving goalposts anywhere except closer, not further away.

The committee made these requests, the same two requests, back in April. First, we requested materials relating to testimony on Syria and weapons of mass destruction prepared by Mr. Bolton and/or his staff in the summer and fall of 2003.

We already know from senior CIA officials that Mr. Bolton sought to stretch the intelligence that was available on Syria's WMD program well beyond what the intelligence would support.

We think the documents we are seeking will bolster the case that he repeatedly sought to exaggerate intelligence data. Some who are listening might say: Why is that important? Remember the context in the summer of 2003. In the summer of 2003, there were assertions being made in various press accounts and by some ``outside'' experts and some positing the possibility that those weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist in Iraq had been smuggled into Syria and that Syria had its own robust weapons of mass destruction program.

Remember, people were speculating about ``who is next?'' Newspaper headlines and sub-headlines: Is Syria next? Syria was at the top of the list--not the only one on the list. There was speculation, as I said, that the weapons of mass destruction we could not find in Iraq had been smuggled into Syria.

We know, at that same time, the CIA says Mr. Bolton was trying to stretch--stretch--the intelligence case against Syria on weapons of mass destruction.

The Syrian documents may also raise questions as to whether Mr. Bolton, when he raised his hand and swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, in fact may not have done that because he told the Foreign Relations Committee that he was not in any way personally involved in preparing that testimony. The documents we seek would determine whether that was true or not. It may be true, but the documents will tell us.

Second, we have requested access to 10 National Security Agency intercepts. That means conversations picked up between a foreigner and an American, where they may have relevance to an intelligence inquiry and where the name of the foreigner is always listed, but it says speaking to ``an American,'' or an American representing an American entity.

Mr. Bolton acknowledged, under oath, that he had sought--which is not unusual in the sense that it has never happened, but it is noteworthy--he sought the identities of the Americans listed in 10 different intercepts.

When I asked him why he did that, he said intellectual curiosity and for context. It is not a surprise to say--and I am not revealing anything confidential; I have not seen those intercepts--that there have been assertions made by some to Members of the Senate and the staff members of the Senate that Mr. Bolton was seeking the names of these individuals for purposes of his intramural fights that were going on within the administration about the direction of American foreign policy. These requests resulted in Mr. Bolton being given the names of 19 different individuals. Nineteen identities of Americans or American companies were on those intercepts.

Mr. Bolton has seen these intercepts. Mr. Bolton's staff has seen some of these intercepts, but not a single Senator has seen the identities of any of these Americans listed on the intercepts.

I might note, parenthetically, we suggested--I was reluctant to do it, but I agreed with the leader of my committee--that we would yield that responsibility to the chairman and vice chair of the Intelligence Committee. Later, the majority leader, in a genuine effort to try to resolve this issue, asked me what was needed. I said he should ask for the names--not the chairman--he should ask for the names. He said he did, and he said they would not give him the names either.

It has been alleged, as I said, that Mr. Bolton has been spying on rivals within the bureaucracy, both inferior and superior to him. While I doubt this, as I said publicly before, we have a duty to be sure that he did not misuse this data.

The administration has argued that the Syrian testimony material is not relevant to our inquiry. I simply leave it by saying that is an outrageous assertion. The administration may not decide what the Senate needs in reviewing a nomination unless it claims Executive privilege or a constitutional prohibition of a violation of separation of power. As my grandfather and later my mother would say: Who died and left them boss? No rationale has been given for the testimony.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I have two colleagues who wish to speak. I will be brief. We have narrowed the request of the documents. We narrowed them on several different occasions. I am grateful to Chairman Roberts and Director Negroponte for accepting the principle that they can cross-check names on the list we have with the list of names on the intercepts. But I hope everyone understands, as my friend from Connecticut will probably speak to, that in offering to provide a list of names, we were trying to make it easier. We were not trying to move the goalposts; we were trying to make it closer for them.

The bottom line is, it is very easy to get this resolved. It is not inappropriate for me to say that I had a very good conversation not only with Mr. Bolton but with Mr. Card, who indicated he was sure we could resolve the Syrian piece of this. I indicated from the beginning that was not sufficient. We had two requests for good reason: One relating to intercepts and one relating to the Syrian matter. The Syrian matter is within striking distance of being resolved. I said in good faith to him: Do not resolve that if you think that resolves the matter, unless you are ready to resolve the matter of the issue relating to Mr. Bolton and the intercepts.

Absent that material being made available, I urge my colleagues to reject cloture in the hope that the administration will finally step up to its constitutional responsibility of providing this information to us.

I yield the floor and reserve the remainder of the time.

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