More bad news for Bolton

Bush's nominee for U.N. ambassador already has a big list of fans. The list of his little lies is catching up.

Published April 21, 2005 9:22PM (EDT)

John Bolton's long list of fans keeps getting longer. President Bush's former ambassador to South Korea, Thomas Hubbard, has stepped forward to report on two confrontations with the beleagured nominee for U.N. ambassador.

"The issues raised by retired ambassador Thomas Hubbard help flesh out a portrait of Bolton as a hard-charging, fiercely conservative official who showed little concern for diplomatic niceties and, according to critics, has long been prone to losing his cool," reports Newsweek.

Indeed, the first allegation addresses Bolton's already well-publicized diplomatic touch: Hubbard says Bolton became irate with him during a trip to Seoul in early 2003, having been denied the opportunity to meet with South Korea's president-elect. (It was impractical to arrange such a meeting, Hubbard says, because another high level Bush official had just met with Roh Moo-Hyun the week prior.) "He was very angry," Hubbard told Newsweek. "He berated me for failing to get him the meeting." Apparently Bolton then bailed on a dinner Hubbard had set up for him with other prominent South Korean dignitaries -- not exactly reflecting well on the ol' stars and stripes.

Poor form with regard to friendly dignitaries is one thing -- but poor form when it comes to dealing with a nuclear-armed card-carrying member of the Axis of Evil seems quite another. Questions about Bolton's handling of sensitive intelligence matters are already a big part of his troubles with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as is the provocative speech he gave on July 31, 2003, in which he described life in North Korea as a "hellish nightmare" under the "tyrannical dictator" Kim Jong Il.

That assessment may be perfectly accurate (one which prompted the North Korean government to denounce Bolton as a "bloodsucker" and "human scum"), but at issue for Hubbard is Bolton's rogue behavior in crafting and delivering the speech. Hubbard says that in reviewing a draft of Bolton's speech beforehand, he'd ask Bolton to tone down his comments about the North Korean dictator. Apparently Bolton wasn't interested in any advice from Bush's ambassador to the politically fragile Korean peninsula; he refused to make the changes.

Hubbard says Bolton did correct some factual errors in the speech, which Hubbard thanked him for -- but has since twisted Hubbard's gratitude out of context. The former ambassador told Newsweek that he had in no way thanked Bolton for the entire speech or expressed his approval of it.

"He misunderstood what I said or misinterpreted my comments or mischaracterized them," Hubbard says, adding that he "was not pleased" when he heard Bolton's misleading testimony before the Senate panel on April 11.

Maybe Bolton thought he had plenty of slack to play with the truth two weeks ago, when it was looking like he'd sail his way through Senate confirmation hearings. But with key Republicans now turning against him, the vote delayed, and the little lies bubbling up to the surface (Fred Kaplan notes another Bolton floater fished out by Joe Biden this week), it's looking more like Bolton is fast tying his own noose.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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