John Bolton Unleashed: the implications for accountability and for Congressional oversight

In a Just Security post today, Patrick Eddington provides a detailed history of John Bolton’s various stints in the Executive Branch—and his attitudes about the use of information to advance his agenda. As Eddington notes

Bolton rose to prominence in the Bush (43) administration’s first term as the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, where he frequently clashed not only with his Bush administration colleagues but with career government servants at the State Department and the U.S. Intelligence Community. And it was those confrontations, along with credible allegations of abuse of surveillance powers [apparent attempts to obtain information on the identities of other American officials picked up in conversations by NSA] and [of] Intelligence Community analysts, that ultimately led to Bolton’s exit from the administration. [Emphasis added]

Now, Trump is putting Bolton in as the National Security Advisor, where he will not only see but be able to rouse the President to attack enemies “at home and abroad,” with

..unprecedented access to intelligence collection and surveillance authorities that routinely gobble up trillions of digital communications, including a vast (but currently undisclosed) number of text messages, emails, etc., belonging to Americans.

Bolton will also have access to FBI investigative information and capabilities, and be in a position to pressure the bureau or other federal agencies to investigate Americans in contact with foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, foreign journalists, and more.

The problem for accountability is that

Because Bolton will be an appointee on President Trump’s staff, direct Congressional access to his communications with federal departments and agencies will likely be nonexistent, absent leaks to the media. Accordingly, the only chance of surfacing politically or legally dubious actions by Bolton or those working on his behalf will come from aggressive Congressional oversight of those same executive branch entities for any directives, taskings, or other orders that he hands down. [Emphasis added]

Eddington, a former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Rush Holt, identifies the tools available to the House and Senate to get information on Bolton’s activities from executive branch agencies—including Resolutions of Inquiry, appropriations riders, subpoenas, or holds on other executive branch nominations.

To be effective, such oversight must have  “at least a modicum of bipartisan cooperation.” And, in the current Congress, there’s the rub.

And, failing meaningful congressional oversight—and/or consequential internal executive branch disclosures and whistleblowing—the public will be completely in the dark.

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