WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to take advantage of the congressional summer vacation by installing John Bolton — his controversial choice to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — in the job.
Click in the box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' James Rosen.
The move, known as a recess appointment, would bypass Bolton's critics in the Senate and would allow him to serve as the American voice before the United Nations until the next session of Congress begins in January 2007. Bush is expected to announce that he will be making the recess appointment next week.
Bush's decision comes amid a final appeal from a group of Democratic senators for Bush to pick someone else and to avoid making a recess appointment.
"In light of the fact that John Bolton was not truthful to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the questionnaire he swore was truthful, we ask that you do not make a recess appointment," the senators wrote. "Mr. Bolton's excuse that he 'didn't recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general' is simply not believable."
The president has the power to fill vacancies without the usual Senate approval while Congress is in recess. Under the Constitution, the recess appointment would last only until the next session of Congress, which begins in January 2007.
Before the Democrats sent their letter, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gave the strongest official indication yet that Bush would use his recess appointment (search) authority. McClellan noted that the U.N. General Assembly has its annual meeting in mid-September.
"It's important that we get our permanent representative in place," he said. "This is a critical time and it's important to continue moving forward on comprehensive reform."
The letter by the Democratic senators was signed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, as well as Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joe Biden of Delaware, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bill Nelson of Florida and Patty Murray of Washington.
At issue is a questionnaire Bolton filled out for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bolton said he had not — at the time of filling out the form — been asked to testify before a grand jury in any government investigations within the past five years. He signed an affidavit saying his answers were all true.
The questionnaire and accompanying affidavit have become a new element in another Washington guessing game — who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame?
The State Department says Bolton has not been asked to testify in the investigation into who secretly told reporters about Plame's identity at the time he filled out the form. But in 2003 he was questioned by the agency's inspector general as part of a joint investigation with the CIA into Iraq's attempts to purchase yellow-cake uranium from Niger.
The State Department at first insisted that Bolton answered the question truthfully when checking off "no" to those questions but then on Friday said a corrected version of the questionnaire was sent to Capitol Hill.
"Mr. Bolton certainly wishes he hadn't had to resubmit the form but he would characterize it as an honest lapse in memory," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.
The two issues are related.
Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent by the CIA to Africa to confirm Iraq's attemps to buy the material from Niger. He returned to say that the Bush administration's accusations regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities were overblown.
Wilson argues that the Bush administration purposefully leaked the name of his wife to the press as payback for him going public with his findings. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, is at the center of that controversy.
The president cited the Iraq-Niger connection two years ago in his State of the Union address justifying an invasion, an assertion the administration later retracted.
Although the White House clearly has confidence in Bolton's answers, a recess appointment, as an end run around the Senate confirmation process, could annoy senators — particularly those in the other party — at a time when Bush's nomination of John Roberts (search) to serve on the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. It also could hamstring Bolton at the United Nations, by sending him there as a short-timer without the Senate's backing.
Bolton's nomination to one of the most coveted diplomatic assignments, announced in March by the president, was controversial from the start and has been stalled in the Senate amid a bitter battle between the Democrats and the White House.
Critics say Bolton, who has been accused of mistreating subordinates and has been openly skeptical about the United Nations, would be ill-suited to the sensitive diplomatic task at the world body. The White House says the former undersecretary of state for arms control, who has long been one of Bush's most conservative foreign policy advisers, is exactly the man to whip the United Nations into shape.
The Constitution's provision allowing for recess appointments harkens back to an era when lawmakers took days to get to the national capital and when recesses routinely stretched for months — conditions that, of course, no longer apply.
FOX News' Jim Mills and The Associated Press contributed to this report.