Wash. Post left out full extent of Hastert's circumvention of Clinton admin. in working directly with Colombians

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

A Washington Post article on Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Syria reported that former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert had "infuriated the Clinton White House by working directly with Colombian police officials on their U.S. aid requests, bypassing diplomatic channels." But Hastert allegedly went further, urging Colombian military officials to circumvent the administration and work directly with Congress, even assuring them that he would work to reduce the impact of legal restrictions that Colombia objected to.

In an April 5 Washington Post article addressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) recent trip to Syria, reporter Elizabeth Williamson wrote that "[o]ther speakers have gotten themselves into hot water" and cited the example of former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who, Williamson wrote, "infuriated the Clinton White House by working directly with Colombian police officials on their U.S. aid requests, bypassing diplomatic channels." But Hastert apparently did more than "bypass[] diplomatic channels"; he allegedly urged Colombian military officials to circumvent the administration and work directly with Congress, even assuring them that he would work to reduce the impact of legal restrictions that Colombia objected to. A May 28, 1997 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, reported on Hastert's trip:

He [Hastert] decried "leftist-dominated" U.S Congresses of years past who "used human rights as an excuse to aid the left in other countries," and vowed that he was committed to "correcting" that situation and expediting aid to U.S. allies in the war on drugs. He closed by telling the military and police that they already knew they could bypass the U.S. executive branch and communicate directly with the Congress; he encouraged them to continue to do so.

According to the National Security Archive summary of the cable, Hastert's encouragement actually undermined efforts by congressional Democrats and the Clinton administration to attach human-rights conditions to foreign assistance:

At the same time Congress was attaching human rights conditions to U.S. security assistance programs and negotiating a formal end-use monitoring agreement with the Colombian defense ministry, other lawmakers were secretly assuring Colombian officials that they felt such restrictions were unwarranted, and would work to either remove the conditions or limit their effectiveness.

Moreover, while Williamson presented the Hastert example as another instance of a speaker working against the administration of a different party, the implicit comparison to Pelosi's trip is unwarranted. No reports have suggested that, during her recent trip to Damascus, Pelosi encouraged Syria to disregard the Bush administration and work directly with the Democratic Congress. Nor apparently has she told Syria that she would work to change existing law to that country's benefit. In fact, Williamson herself acknowledged this: "Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi's dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip."

From the April 5 Post article:

Other speakers have gotten themselves into hot water. J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) infuriated the Clinton White House by working directly with Colombian police officials on their U.S. aid requests, bypassing diplomatic channels.

Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who served as speaker after Republicans won the House in 1994, recalls that the "only time that came anywhere close" to stepping onto diplomatic territory "was I made a comment in Israel that was too strong." In a speech to the Israeli parliament he said that he considers Jerusalem "the united and eternal capital of Israel." The White House, engaged in Middle East peace talks, was furious. "I said afterward that I was wrong," he recalled.

"There's an enormous psychological difference between normal members and the speaker" -- Congress's most powerful individual, third in line to the presidency, Gingrich said. Especially abroad, he said, House speakers "have to move with exceptional care."

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