WASHINGTON – Two of Washington's most contentious political issues of late have collided — the nomination of John Bolton (search) to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the investigation into who leaked a CIA operative's name to the press.
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden (search) of Delaware, who opposes Bolton's nomination, faxed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) on Wednesday asking if it was true that Bolton was called to testify to the grand jury about who leaked the name of Valerie Plame (search) to reporters. If Bolton did testify, some Democrats say, he should have amended his response to a questionnaire filled out for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The latest request comes after months of protests from Senate Democrats on Bolton being confirmed and delays in holding a vote on his nomination to the United Nations. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., on Thursday said that chamber will revisit the Bolton nomination after Congress' August recess.
Earlier this week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan hinted that the president may grant Bolton a recess appointment in August, while sources told FOX News on Thursday that the recess appointment could come as early as next week. Such a move would mean Bolton could serve until January 2007, the end of the current Congress.
In his letter, Biden said: "I write to request that you or the nominee inform the committee whether Mr. Bolton did, in fact, appear before the grand jury, or whether he has been interviewed or otherwise asked to provide information by the special prosecutor or his staff in connection with this matter, and if so, when that occurred," wrote Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who led the Democratic filibuster last month against the nominee.
But a State Department official said Bolton does not need to change his response.
"Mr. Bolton, as part of the nomination process, supplied an answer to the question that asked whether or not a nominee as been interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative, including an inspector general congressional or grand jury investigation, within the past five years, except routine congressional testimony," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Thursday.
"Mr. Bolton, in his response on the written paperwork, was to say 'no.' And that answer is truthful then and it remains the case now."
Before he was nominated, Bolton served as the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security since 2001. His official title is senior adviser to the secretary of state. Democrats argue Bolton is ill-mannered and hot-tempered, making him unsuitable for the top U.S. diplomatic post at the international body.
Democrats have also insisted that they want to see early drafts of Bolton's House testimony on Syria delivered two years ago, as well as the names of 36 individuals listed in National Security Agency intercepts that Bolton had requested and been permitted to view.
"I think it's a fishing expedition -- it looks to me it's not a red flag that's being raised, it's a red herring," former GOP Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington told FOX News about Biden seeking a potential Bolton-CIA leak connection.
Nethercutt said it's just another way Democrats are trying to stall Bolton's nomination.
"I think at some point, the president has to be able to have his nominees in placed in positions like the United Nations ambassadorship," he added. "I think it's very important we have someone on duty at this huge bureaucracy that is the United Nations. I think Mr. Bolton is that strong representative … let's give him a chance."
But former Texas gubernatorial candidate Gary Mauro, said erring on the side of caution is the best bet so far as the nominee is considered. Mauro rejected the notion that the issue is merely a delaying tactic on the part of Democrats.
"The fact is, a couple more weeks isn't going to matter at this point" so far as when a vote is held on the Bolton nomination, the Democrat told FOX News on Thursday. "It seems to me this is easy to answer: Did he or did he not go to the grand jury? If he didn't, Biden will look silly and we can move forward."
At issue is a classified memo from June 2003 that said Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues. The document could be a flashpoint because of the controversy swirling over who in the White House, if anyone, leaked Plame's name, whether she was a covert agent at the time and whether this particular memo made it clear to Bush officials and others that her identity should be concealed.
California Rep. Jane Harman (search), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has asked the State Department for two different versions of the memo from its bureau of intelligence and research that discussed Plame, a congressional aide said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the news report that caught Biden's attention to the matter suggested that the grand jury sought Bolton's cooperation in connection with the document.
Boxer said Biden sought clarification because Bolton had responded in March to a "boilerplate" committee questionnaire that asked if the nominee had been "interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative (including an inspector general), congressional, or grand jury investigation within the past five years, except routine congressional testimony."
Bolton swore in an affidavit that the questionnaire answers were all true. Boxer declined to state whether Bolton had responded "no" to that question, but said, "he indicated in his form that he had not [been interviewed or asked to supply information in such proceedings]."
Boxer also mentioned that former Bush adviser Karen Hughes recently filled out the same questionnaire for her nomination to a State Department post, in which she acknowledged testifying before the grand jury in the same case.
Attempt to clarify the matter on Monday failed, so Biden directly faxed a letter to Rice.
The State Department responded on Wednesday.
Boxer conceded it was possible that Bolton's answer was true when he gave it; he could have cooperated in the CIA leak case after he filled out the questionnaire in March. The Biden letter asked Rice if, and when, that cooperation occurred.
Boxer said she believes the special counsel had completed interviewing witnesses by March, and that even if Bolton's alleged cooperation came later, "ethics tells me you go and amend" the questionnaire.
The grand jury was convened in the fall of 2003 to discover whether anyone in the White House violated the law in leaking Plame's name to reporters. Plame, who was working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., was said to be under nonofficial cover at the time.
Plame's husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson (search), suggested his wife's identity was revealed in retaliation for his July 2003 editorial in The New York Times, in which he suggested the Bush administration manipulated intelligence reports to boost Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction threat.
Rove testified that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame, though without identifying her by name. Rove said he was first told of her name by another reporter.
But the June 2003 classified memo in question was sent to the White House just days before a news report published Plame's name. That memo, written by then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, noted that "Valerie Wilson" worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues. It also explained how Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband go on the fact-finding mission to Niger to see if Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium there.
Opponents suggest that Rove or someone else in the White House may have gotten Plame's name from the classified memo rather than from reporters, as Rove suggested.
More than two dozen Democratic senators (search) on Monday asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to investigate the leak of Plame's name, saying that her safety had been compromised.
"The United States Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch, whether a law has been broken or not," reads the letter authored by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Boxer is one of the signatories. "It is time for Congress to fulfill that constitutional responsibility in this matter by initiating a thorough investigation."
Bolton was nominated in March for the U.N. post but has twice failed to win the 60 Senate votes needed to end debate and move toward final confirmation.
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss, James Rosen and Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.