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State Department: Bolton erred on report

/ Source: The Associated Press

John Bolton, the nominee for U.N. ambassador, inaccurately told Congress he had not been interviewed or testified in any investigation over the past five years, the State Department said Thursday, responding to a Democratic critic.

Bolton was interviewed by the State Department inspector general as part of a joint investigation with the Central Intelligence Agency related to Iraqi attempts to buy nuclear materials from Niger, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said.

When Bolton filled out a Senate questionnaire in connection with his nomination, “he didn’t recall being interviewed by the State Department’s inspector general. Therefore, his form, as submitted, was inaccurate,” Clay said. “He will correct it.”

The response came after Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserting Bolton had been interviewed and suggesting he had not been truthful in his questionnaire.

Democrats have tried to turn up the pressure on Bolton, hoping to persuade President Bush not to appoint Bolton on a temporary basis while Congress is on its summer recess.

Nomination stalled
Bolton’s nomination has been stalled for months, and Rice and other officials refused to rule out a recess appointment for Bolton. “What we can’t be is without leadership at the United Nations,” Rice said on the PBS’s “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

A federal grand jury is investigating who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the news media. Biden’s initial request followed a report that Bolton was among State Department undersecretaries who “gave testimony” about a classified memo that has become an important piece of evidence in the leak investigation.

Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA in 2002 to check out intelligence that the government of Niger had sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq for nuclear weapons. Wilson could not verify the intelligence and his public criticism of President Bush’s Iraq policy in July 2003 set in motion a chain of events that led to an ongoing criminal investigation and the jailing of a New York Times reporter who refused to cooperate with it.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, citing unidentified Bush administration officials, was the first to disclose in July 2003 that Plame worked for the CIA and suggested her husband for the Niger trip. Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper wrote a subsequent story and included her name.

A 1982 law prohibits the deliberate exposure of the identity of an undercover CIA official. Wilson has accused the White House of trying to orchestrate a dirty-tricks campaign to discredit him after he challenged the administration’s assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was seeking material from Niger to make nuclear weapons and said the White House had manipulated prewar intelligence to justify an Iraq invasion.

Not known if Novak cooperated
It is unknown whether Novak has cooperated with investigators, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said in court papers that his investigation was complete as far back as October 2004, except for the testimony of two reporters — Cooper and the Times’ Judith Miller.

Cooper testified to the grand jury this month following a protracted legal battle over whether the reporters should be compelled to reveal their confidential sources. Miller was jailed July 6 for contempt of court because she refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald.

Bush political aide Karl Rove and vice presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby were among Cooper’s sources, he reported following his grand jury appearance. They are among several high-ranking administration officials who have given grand jury testimony.

While Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson’s wife worked for the agency, he has insisted through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name.

Earlier disclosure
Among the many mysteries in this case is that there was apparently at least one other government official who disclosed to a reporter that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter, wrote in the summer edition of the Nieman Foundation publication Nieman Reports that the official talked to him two days before Novak published his column.

Pincus did not disclose his source. But he said he has cooperated with prosecutors and that his source also has been interviewed.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor and criminal defense lawyer, said he continues to believe that, based on reports of what the grand jury has been told, Fitzgerald’s focus is more on the veracity of witnesses than on the initial disclosure of Plame’s name.

“Historically, people are indicted for how they respond to investigations more than the original cause of the investigations,” Turley said.