Holbrooke faces GOP grilling on ethics charges
June 17, 1999
Web posted at: 6:23 p.m. EDT (2223 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 17) -- As his confirmation hearings for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations got under way Thursday, Richard Holbrooke apologized to a Senate committee for "carelessness" that he said led to "misperceptions" about ethical problems that stalled his nomination for a year.
A year to the day since President Bill Clinton announced Holbrooke's nomination, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began the first of three days of hearings. The nomination was almost derailed by allegations Holbrooke violated federal lobbying laws by using State Department contacts to help an investment firm he joined after ending his service as an envoy in 1996.
Richard Holbrooke appeared Thursday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), voiced sharp criticism during the day's proceeding, saying Holbrooke ignored legal advice that could have prevented the appearance of conflicts of interest. And Helms said Holbrooke "appears to have made no effort" to observe federal ethics laws requiring individuals leaving government service to avoid contact with officials in their former agency for one year.
"It's apparent that you have violated the law several times and that justifies this hearing. Whether it's a terrible violation or not is a matter of judgment," Helms said.
While Holbrooke said he knew the law and lived by it, "I did not realize how complicated it would be to avoid misperceptions in some areas at some times because of the two roles which were different. With regret I must say that carelessness on occasion on my part contributed to these misperceptions."
The apology earned Holbrooke some support from the Republicans on the committee. While Helms has not said how he will vote, the second-ranking majority member, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) said he would back the nominee.
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) also is "likely to support the nomination," his spokeswoman Mary Healy said after the hearing. Smith is chairman of the European affairs subcommittee, which is slated to look at Holbrooke's work as envoy to the Balkans.
Holbrooke faced committee chair Sen. Jesse Helms and ranking Democrat Sen. Joseph Biden
Holbrooke's problems involved his business contacts three years ago with the U.S. Embassy in South Korea. Holbrooke, a former State Department official, was an investment banker for Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) in New York at the time. At the same time Holbrooke worked for CSFB (1996-1999), he was an unpaid adviser for the State Department.
Holbrooke was cleared of "willful violation of the law" by the Justice Department, and he paid $5,000 to settle a civil case related to the charges so his nomination could go forward.
Appearing before the committee on behalf of Holbrooke, Sen. John Warner (R-Virginia), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the nomination should be confirmed because of Holbrooke's tireless work on behalf of the nation's national security. "I think he's eminently qualified," Warner said.
Holbrooke's confirmation hearings will continue next week with meetings scheduled on June 23 on the topic of U.N. reform. On June 24 the panel is also expected to grill Holbrooke on his role in the Clinton Administration's policy in the Balkans -- where Holbrooke has been the diplomatic point man.
Helms denied that he has intentionally held-up the nomination, and both Holbrooke and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) agreed. President Bill Clinton announced Holbrooke's nomination on June 17, 1998, but it was not officially submitted to the committee until February 10, 1999, after the Justice Department probe was settled.
While Holbrooke, 58, has said that he's wanted this post since a childhood visit to the UN with his father. Still, he's considered no ordinary diplomat.
Described by friends and foes alike as being simultaneously brilliant and arrogant, Holbrooke has been called "the brilliant bully" or "the energizer envoy" -- adjectives the pin-striped world of diplomacy isn't accustomed to hearing describe one of its own.
This year Holbrooke spent more than nine months negotiating with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, hoping to avert a war in Kosovo. His efforts ended with an ultimatum to the Yugoslav leader just before the start of NATO bombing in March.
But Holbrooke is best known as the architect of the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia. His work earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
To get to Dayton, Holbrooke engaged in shuttle diplomacy for nearly a year and was criticized for meeting with Bosnian Serb leaders General Ratko Mladic and his political counterpart, Radovan Karadzic -- both indicted war criminals at the time.
Holbrooke during his opening statement Thursday that much of his commitment to peace in Europe stemmed from his family's background. His mother left Germany in 1933 as a Jewish refugee. Holbrooke's father-in-law and mother-in-law fled Budapest in October 1956 when the Soviet army retook the city after the communist government was overthrown by the Hungarian people.
An emotional Holbrooke teared up when describing his father's background as a European refugee and, unable to read the rest, he submitted that part of his statement into the record.
CNN's Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.