Call it the tale of two confirmation hearings.
Two of the four men most recently nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations found their candidacies challenged, though they could not have faced more different receptions. Both men were supremely qualified, but the similarities end there.
The divergent paths for each reveal Democrats’ rabid partisanship and belies their claims that they oppose John Bolton on the grounds that character matters.
Six years ago, Foreign Service veteran Richard Holbrooke was awaiting Senate confirmation. As former a ambassador to Germany, head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs under President Carter, and European and Canadian Affairs under President Clinton, his resume was indeed impressive.
All that stood in his way was an investigation into possible felonies committed after he joined the private sector.
Given that he had the unyielding support of both Clinton’s political hands and the powerful Foreign Service bureaucracy, Holbrooke knew he had little about which to worry. Despite a thorough, months-long investigation which turned up substantial evidence of impropriety, according to someone intimately familiar with its proceedings, Holbrooke was let off with a slap on the wrist: a plea bargain to one civil count and a $5,000 fine.
Upon leaving public service, Holbrooke became an instant millionaire executive with Credit Suisse First Boston. According to an official with intimate knowledge of the investigation, private citizen Holbrooke would call people he knew on staffs of various embassies—people who still likely saw him as their boss—to set up meetings with foreign officials, and he allegedly used former employees to provide him with office space and drivers.
Holbrooke’s defense was shaky, at best. He claimed that because he was also the special envoy to Bosnia, all his trips and various uses of government property were solely to benefit the U.S. government. Most of the travel, however, was underwritten by CSFB, not the U.S. taxpayer.
And according to the official familiar with the investigation, the distinction was lost to many of Holbrooke’s former subordinates, who repeatedly leapt into action to help their former superior.
Although then-Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) reportedly believed that Holbrooke had violated the law on multiple occasions, he afforded the millionaire diplomat a full hearing. The session was barely contentious, and it became a near-love fest after Holbrooke formally apologized for his “carelessness” and “bookkeeping” errors.
Helms, the only panel member with any criticism of the nominee, even appeared to bond with Holbrooke after the diplomat spoke of how his father used to take him to the UN building as a child.
Not only was Holbrooke given the kid gloves’ treatment, but his testimony was preceded by that of a bipartisan pair of distinguished Senators. Both the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and John Warner (R-VA) lavished praise on Holbrooke, and there was nary a witness with any cross words about the nominee.
Contrast Holbrooke’s treatment as a Democrat sitting before a GOP-controlled committee to John Bolton’s as a Republican before an ostensibly friendly panel this April.
Bolton’s hearings were marked by confrontation from Democrats—and apathy from Republicans. The sole witness besides the nominee was a former head of intelligence at the State Department with whom Bolton had had exactly one three-minute encounter years ago.
Almost the entirety of Carl “conservative to the core, but not too conservative to cut checks to Charlie Rangel and John Kerry” Ford’s testimony was based on hearsay, or as non-lawyers call it, gossip. Almost nothing he said would have been admissible in a court of law precisely because hearsay in unreliable, yet Democrats jumped for joy at rumors that Bolton was a “bully” and a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.” To them, this was all the justification necessary to block Bolton’s nomination.
If everything alleged by Ford—or the four other Bolton bashers interviewed by the committee—is true, then Bush’s nominee is, well, mean. But if everything investigated involving Holbrooke’s activities during his CSFB tenure had proved true, then the Democrat would have been guilty of serious ethical violations, if not criminal ones.
Yet current Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) seemed far more enthusiastic about Clinton’s choice than Bush’s. His support of Bolton is palpably tepid, and his staff lined up not a single character witness for the embattled nominee, let alone any kind of reinforcement on the order of two senior Senators offering high praise.
While Holbrooke may not have been guilty of any crime—he pleaded only to a single civil count—his apparent ethical lapses deserved far more consideration from the committee than they received. Especially in light of the stir over Bolton’s alleged behavior.
The official involved with the Holbrooke investigation certainly feels that way. Even if the Senate panel gave short shrift to Holbrooke’s alleged misdeeds, the official can’t. “There are many nights I find myself walking and thinking about how he got off,” he said.