WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Janice O'Connell, the veteran Democratic staff expert on Western Hemisphere affairs, acted as though she were seeing an apparition at 2:30 p.m. last Friday. She was present with other Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers to question unfavorable witnesses about Under Secretary of State John Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations. But outside the Dirksen Office Building's Room 419 appeared her archenemy: Otto Reich, coming not to bury Bolton, but to praise him.
O'Connell is only an aide to Sen. Christopher Dodd, but her effectiveness in making life difficult for enemies of Fidel Castro is legendary. She was largely responsible for blocking confirmation of Bush's 2001 nomination of Reich as assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs. Last Friday, Reich hoped to have his appearance before the Foreign Relations staffers become the hearing that Dodd and O'Connell had denied him. Even with Republicans in nominal control of the committee, however, Reich's complaint about the character assassination directed against him then and against Bolton now was removed from the record.
The anti-Bolton campaign is about far more than the nominee's sometimes prickly personality. Senate Democrats, with clandestine support from State Department and CIA careerists, wage war on foes of normalizing relations with Castro's Cuba. Uncomprehending Republicans are passive. Bolton's confirmation has been delayed for weeks, and nobody is certain that Republican senators will stay together today to send his nomination out of committee on a straight party-line vote.
O'Connell and the Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic chief counsel, Brian McKeon, had not expected Reich to be present Friday. "Are you a volunteer?" McKeon asked Reich, who replied he had been invited by the committee's Republican staff. Noting a Fox camera crew in the hallway, O'Connell sarcastically told Reich, "I see you brought your own news team."
The dialogue was fierce and loud, once Reich's testimony began. Reich said that the systematic leaking of derogatory information about Bolton reminds him of O'Connell in 2001 putting out accusations made in supposedly secret interviews. "That's irrelevant!" O'Connell responded, moving that Reich's comments be stricken from the public record. She moved that Reich be ruled out of order, and O'Connell usually gets her way inside the Foreign Relations Committee. Paul Foldi, the senior Republican staffer, ordered that the comments, for which Reich had waited four years, be erased.
Reich's appearance was not the only mishap for the anti-Bolton campaign. Jamie Miscik was part of the CIA's left-of-center cadre as DDI (deputy director of intelligence), until the new CIA director, Porter Goss, got her resignation in March. Miscik was supposed to confirm that Bolton had harassed and damaged NIO (National Intelligence Officer) Fulton Armstrong by being asked how Armstrong was affected by Bolton's attempt to remove him from an assignment.
"In your opinion," asked Foldi, "did the NIO suffer professionally as a result of this?" Replied Miscik: "No, not over this. No." Foldi: "Over anything else?" Miscik: "Yeah, I think there are some other issues there that I can't go into." That undermined the attack on Bolton based on Armstrong's grievances.
Whatever damage Bolton did to Armstrong professionally could not even compare with Reich's testimony that the analyst's work was considered sub-par throughout the national security bureaucracy. That fits complaints I have heard from Reagan administration officials about Armstrong's left-wing bias on Western Hemisphere questions in general, but particularly on Cuba.
Cuba is the theme that runs through the ordeal of John Bolton. The Dodd-O'Connell team's indictment of Bolton is based on taking issue with his accusations that Castro is building a biological warfare capability. Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, who has suddenly emerged as a Bolton-basher, in May 2004 called U.S. sanctions against Castro the "dumbest policy on the face of the earth."
A few Republican senators appear really to accept the fiction that they are jurors in a fair trial who should slowly make up their minds about Bolton. In truth, the Democrats are in a full attack mode, while their staffers try to collect ammunition. Otto Reich performed another selfless service in showing up and trying to expose the sham.