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Diplomacy in Action

Inside Washington: Exploring the Senate Confirmation Process

FPC Briefing
Tom Korologos
Former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and Strategic Advisor at DLA Piper
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
June 9, 2009

Date: 06/09/2009 Location: Washington DC Description: Tom Korologos, Former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium and Strategic Advisor at DLA Piper, discusses the Senate Confirmation Process during a roundtable discussion at the Washington Foreign Press Center, Tuesday, June 9, 2009. © State Dept Image

11:00 AM EDT


: Okay. You guys know we have some colleagues in New York. They’ll come on when there are questions. Ambassador Korologos is going to give some opening remarks and will take your questions. And I’ll jump in and cut it off when I see him getting tired of your questions. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I’m not going to read all of this, but these are some of my brains in here.

Well, thank you. I welcome the chance to come and explain a little bit about what’s going on in the world and in the current advice and consent business of the Supreme Court nominee. Under – I’m not going to insult you, but preliminarily, in the United States Constitution there’s something called the advice and consent. It’s a power that the Senate got in the early days as a compromise. They wanted to make a government that was not purely Executive Branch power, and there was a fight whether to give the Executive Branch the power to make appointments or give it to the Congress, i.e., the Senate, to make Executive Branch appointments.

So the advice and consent thing is a – was a compromise to give the Senate a little bit and give the Executive Branch a lot more. The Senate cannot choose. The Senate can only reject. So they keep sending names up and the Senate says no and they’ve got to send another one up, and the Senate says no and they’ve got to send another one up. So what I’m saying to you is this is called the advice and consent process for judges, appointments to the cabinet. There are about 2,500 or so appointments that have to go through advice and consent. Most of them you never hear about: the U.S. attorneys, U.S. Marshals.

I’ll tell you another advice and consent that the Senate has to prove is officers of the military. They’re all done in a mass – there are six, seven hundred names in a list. And I used to say when I was in the military, “I am an officer and a gentleman by vote of Congress.” So when they vote you an officer, you become an officer and a gentleman by act of Congress.

So anyway, we find ourselves today in the advice and consent process for a Supreme Court nominee. A couple of interesting numbers for your edification. Through the years, Supreme Court nominees have had trouble getting through. If you give me a second here, I’ll give you the statistics. There have been 158 Supreme Court nominations since 1789 when they started doing this.

QUESTION: One, zero, eight --



AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: One hundred fifty-eight – 158 – Supreme Court nominees since 1789 when George Washington named the first ones. Twenty-eight of them, or 18 percent, have not made it. And for comparison purposes, there have been around 500 nominations for the cabinet since those days, and less than 4 percent haven’t made it. So what that tells you is that the Senate takes the nomination process for the Supreme Court nominee very seriously, because it is a lifetime appointment, it is a co-equal branch, it is a powerful position. And for most senators, they’ll tell you it is the most important vote that they will cast as a senator.

Another one that has changed in the years is a – oh, I can’t remember what amendment it was – but when there is a vacancy in the vice president, the president can send up a new vice president. And the first one that did that was Jerry Ford, and the second one was Nelson Rockefeller when they advice and consent Ford and Rockefeller for vice president.

Well, with that background, certainly, President Obama becomes president and we now have a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and he nominates Judge Sotomayor from New York, a member of the Federal District Court, to the job. And she has to start the ritual of going through to get confirmed. And the Post asked me to do a story on how that happens and how it works and what you go through. It’s sitting on the desk out there, I guess. It is a ritual. The process has to be clean cut, because as I say, fully 18 percent did not make it.

And the one thing that the nominee has to be careful of – this is going to be a judge. This is going to be a person who’s going to judge issues. He or she cannot give away what she’s going to rule on. You can’t give her a hypothetical case. You don’t know what shape or form an abortion amendment or an abortion proposal is going to come up, or a gun proposal or an immigration proposal or a privacy proposal, so she has to be very careful and not telegraph what she is – how’s she going to rule, any more than any other judge can.

And I have a quote here which I like to quote myself, and it’s very reliable. Hang on here now. Okay, here it is: “All of the nominee’s statements must take on the passion and enthusiasm of a commencement address. She must be inspiring and lofty, at the same time, say nothing at all.”

So you’ve got to be careful. The goal is not to be anodyne of interest groups, but to avoid prejudging issues that are going to come before the court. So it’s a narrow line that she has to walk in order to convince senators that she’s qualified. And that’s the whole purpose of the advice and consent process, to convince senators – 51 senators – that she is qualified to take this position on the Supreme Court.

And what you’re seeing up there today in the last ten days is courtesy calls on all the senators who will be voting for her. They go around and go into a private office, a lot of media coverage, a lot of people go out and take pictures of it, mainly for local consumption in their home districts and states. And the nominee goes in and sits down and schmoozes and tries to say nothing, at the same time being passionate and interested.

Somebody has to go with her in order to – you have to be careful what she might say in the private meeting with a senator. Because if I’m meeting with you as a senator and you ask me something, by golly, I better give the same answer in the hearing, because that senator has got that issue on his mind. So when the hearing starts, you better believe that that question is going to come at you during the open hearing when you have to be on stage.

And from what I have seen and heard and read, everybody seems to be asking her the Latino question – how Latinos or a white Latino woman is more qualified to be a judge than – a Latino woman is more qualified to be a judge than a white man. And what she’s going to have to come up with, because that’s going to be asked in the hearing, and I wouldn’t be surprised, and I bet you a hundred dollars that Leahy asks her that at the opening statement – that’s his first question to get it out of the way, because it seems to be the one thing that’s floating around all over the place. And so what she’s got to do is sit down somewhere with her thoughts and her advisors and come up with a good, solid explanation of what that meant. So that’s kind of where they are.

The other thing that – this is a little harsh – one of the other thing that I have said in these things is you’ve got to become humanized yourself. Judge Roberts, when he went through the Supreme Court nomination, has two adorable – everybody said – children there were however old they were – five and four – running around playing during the announcement with the President and in the East Room, playing with their little games and stuff. So that humanized him, made him adorable.

So yesterday – and as I say, this is not – this is just me – interestingly enough, Judge Sotomayor broke her ankle. (Laughter.) Well, that’s a irresponsible thing to say. She broke her ankle and now that humanized her. She is human. She’s not – she’s fragile. She ran around with a big cast on her leg and had her picture on the front page of The New York Times today.

Well, I yield, unless there’s anything else you want me to say about that process. I should say as my bona fides, I was responsible in the Judge Rehnquist – in the Justice Rehnquist confirmation the first time, and then when he got on the court, and then I helped him with his confirmation to the Chief Justice. I helped Scalia. I was on the fringes of Justice Kennedy. I helped Ginsberg a little bit. The worst one that I did was Bork. Judge Bork was nominated to be on the Supreme Court, and we worked like the devil to try to get him through it, and he didn’t make it for a hundred reasons. And you all know them or you could talk about them if you’d like, and that one was an abject failure on whole lot of us as part – the Democrats and the job mounting.

The Founding Fathers – when I just read you that advice and consent clause in the Constitution, which is Article 2 – whatever it is there – does not say that this will be a political contest where we buy ads and the most popular guy wins. That is not – it was not the purpose of it. So we resisted, at least I did, buying ads and television commercials and things like the opposition did on Bork. They had a major campaign that went on to discredit him and his record.


QUESTION: I’d like to ask you a question. In your experience, you have seen a case like this one where there is so much involvement of the president pushing a candidate, with all this (inaudible) and all this (inaudible) thing? This is normal?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) they have a political cost (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Well, this is probably – presidents – yeah, they’ve elevated it probably a little bit, I think. Yeah, presidents have helped the nominees. President George Bush did Roberts and Alito. He had people handling it. He was out there quite a bit. He gave talks on the Saturday radio thing and he did – yeah, he did a lot. This President did a lot.

And I’ll tell you one of the reasons they’re doing it – there seems to be more a lot is the communications system has increased and the exposure thing. Everybody Twittering, everybody – what you call those things, with Facebooks, the computer, the blogs and everything else. That is a new element. We didn’t have that so much in the Bork years. In fact, I don’t remember it at all. Then it grew into, I guess, Alito and Roberts. Now, it’s way up here. So, yeah, the emphasis has increased. I would say that.

QUESTION: So you think the ankle thing will help her out?


QUESTION: The ankle – the ankle issue with her apparent image?



QUESTION: Her ankle. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh – (laughter) – well, yeah. Yeah. I’m being cynical. Yeah, that helps. It was an accident. And the first thing she’d say when she goes in to see a senator, “Oh, how did you do that, how do you feel, is it all right?” “Oh, I’m tough, I will endure.” Yeah, sure, it helps.

QUESTION: It will give her much consideration on the part of the senators and so on?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Well, not so much. I mean, I’m being – I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit. It’ll give them some – a little sympathy. But that’s not gonna change any votes.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh my gosh, don’t think that, but it just humanizes her a little bit.

QUESTION: But maybe it will rush the hearings or not?


QUESTION: The hearings. Maybe it would – do you think it will rush the hearings?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Rushing the hearings?


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: The whole goal here is to get that paperwork done and let the committee figure out – finish reading all those cases and everything that – and all that interviewing and every speech she ever gave, and every civic association and every Visa credit card she ever did and every grade she ever had and every driver’s record she ever did. When they finish that, they get together and they decide on a hearing date. They’d like to have the hearing.

See, we’re on a short fuse here. You got – they’re in – this is, what, June? In about – at the 26 or -7 of June, they’re going out for Fourth of July recess, our national holiday, for a week. They come back, and they’re in for four weeks before the August recess – four or five weeks before the August recess. So you’re talking a short time. I don’t see it happening before October. They could have the hearings, they could have votes, they could (inaudible). Now the Democrats and Harry Reid are going to press certainly; “My gosh, yes, if the President wants it by October,” I’m not sure what – how successful they’re going to be to get her there.

QUESTION: The Republicans, how do they approach this? What do they have to be careful of, as they question her in the hearings from a political standpoint, do you think?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: They have be careful of being – turning into anti-Hispanics, anti-women. They are going to be very careful and talk about her record and the – how she approached court cases in that circuit in California, how – her demeanor. They have had reports of how she acts in cases. And it was interesting. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading is that she’s not a cut-and-dry vote to be going this way or that way or any other way. She’s independent, which is – they love that because that means that it’s open season on certain cases. She also has to be careful not to answer questions on the gut issues. She can’t tell them how she’s going to vote on abortion. She can’t tell them how she’s going to vote on privacy issues or on immigration or on guns or on whatever else is kicking around up there.

Look at this Chrysler thing. I don’t know if it’s going last till she – the Chrysler-Fiat thing, I don’t know if it’s going to last till they get to her confirmation, but those are the kind of thing – somebody is liable to ask her, you know, “What do you think of that?” “Well, you know, senator, I’ll have to take a look and see how it comes before us and study it,” and you dance all around Robin Hood’s barn without saying anything.

QUESTION: How much role does the partisanship play in any form of confirmation hearing?


QUESTION: The partisanship, you know, like Republican, Democrat.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, partisanship, partisanship. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. How much role does it play in getting (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: A lot. It’ll play a lot.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: But in the end, you’ll see some Republican votes for her. See, a whole bunch of Republicans already voted for her in the – to be the federal judge and then to be the circuit judge. And I guess some of – I sense that in those votes, there were some deals cut; you vote for my judge, I’ll vote for yours, which is the system.

But there’ll be a little – there’ll be some partisanship, but a lot of them will remember – see, now everybody is saying, oh, we must give the President his choice, elections matter, it’s his turn. Well, they didn’t say that when Bork was up. They didn’t say that when Clarence Thomas was up. So a lot of unhappy characters 10 and 15 years ago. Are they going to come back and take it out on her? No. But it’s sure going to be on their head on a lot of issues. The hearings will be long. They’ll be a fascinating experience for constitutional law classes, especially in the U.S., to watch where they’re all coming from. Every senator will have a certain period of time to ask questions, and she has to respond in kind. That was one of the things that Bork did wrong; he over-answered the questions.

QUESTION: Do we know of any nominee that had, in history, been voted down --


QUESTION: -- by his own party?


QUESTION: Bork was.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: There were a lot of votes against Bork.



QUESTION: Was he a Democrat, Republican?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: He was a Republican appointment by Reagan.

QUESTION: Reagan, okay. And then at the time he was brought down, the Republican had control in the Senate?





QUESTION: How is the process of this approval? It takes – it can take some sessions? It’s only one session, and then they take some time to discuss? How is the process of approval?



AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Senator Leahy will call a hearing, big, high-visibility lights, camera, action. And she will come in and, well, there will be a lot of preliminary activities. She’ll come in and shake hands with every senator. Everybody will come down and say hello. She has to bring in relatives. I’ve brought in – I had a nominee one time whose father was a – whose brother was a Catholic priest, so I brought him in with his collar, put him on the front row.

QUESTION: How many sessions? It can be two or three days or --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: It could be a whole – it can be three or four. There could be three or four. It could take four, five, six sessions, depending on how many questions they have.

QUESTION: Yeah, because there will be a lot of questions.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: There’ll be a lot of questions. They’ll start at 10 o’clock in the morning, and they go probably till 12:30 or 1:00, break for lunch, and then come back in an hour. They’ll start again with her, and they go down the – Leahy will say something, Sessions will say something, the next senator, the next senator, the next senator, the next senator. Pretty soon, they’d finish and they all have a time to be determined – 10, 15 minutes per senator. So the senator sits there and asks questions for 15 minutes or some timeline --

QUESTION: It may take longer sometimes.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: -- for a half hour. And what happens – don’t forget, what happens is a lot of senators will take that whole half hour and just talk. Senator Biden did that with Roberts, just talk. And what I advise nominees, just – you must follow the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule is if they’re talking 80 percent of the time and you’re talking 20 percent, you’re winning. The hearing, I’d say, with some – another, cross my fingers, it’s not quite accurate. The hearing isn’t about you; it’s about them. And they want to show that they understand the issues and they want to make their points across. As they ask the question, they’re making their point.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: So you’d better listen.

QUESTION: Can you explain – that hearing is just in front of the judicial –

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Judiciary Committee members only.

QUESTION: How many on that?

QUESTION: How many?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, gosh, what are they, eight and seven? Must be 15, 16.

QUESTION: Seventeen.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I didn’t bring my list. How many, 17?

QUESTION: Seventeen.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I didn’t bring my list. It must be 17. What is the number, nine and six – eight?

QUESTION: Yes, it’s – I believe it’s nine Democrats.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: It must be six Republicans.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: See, the ratio changed. When the ratio changes in the Senate, the ratio changes in the committees.


QUESTION: So how many votes does the nominee have to secure?


QUESTION: No, no, no. I mean, within the Judiciary Committee first before --


QUESTION: Yeah. Before the vote can move forward for the whole Senate, how many votes does the nominee has to secure?


QUESTION: A majority.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: A majority in the committee, Republican or Democrat. And what happened with Bork, and it happens sometime, the committee vote says no, and then it votes to Senate --

QUESTION: Goes to the --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: -- to the Senate. Let the Senate decide. This is a big deal. We – the committee can’t kill this. So let the Senate take it to the Senate. And the Bork vote in the committee was – I can’t remember – a defeat in the committee. And they finally sent it to the Senate, where there was another defeat.

QUESTION: What was the reason for him being defeated?


QUESTION: What was the reason for him being defeated?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Well, there were a whole bunch of reasons. I say that one of the reasons was that – what happens in the Supreme Court, there are only nine. And every new member on the Supreme Court changes the personality of the court. You can’t have nine people without changing a little bit. And so he replaced Justice Powell once removed after they went through the – through – you remember they went through the two judges that didn’t make it.

QUESTION: Hainsworth and Carswell?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Carswell and Hainsworth, yeah. And they didn’t make it, so it was agony and they couldn’t – didn’t know what to do. So finally, they sent Bork up and he was in the – in effect, replacing Powell who was a Sandra Day O’Connor type, a moderate type who was a swing vote, like Kennedy is today. So they thought that this was going to – this one really changed – Bork really changed the vote in the Supreme Court. She is replacing Souter. Her vote probably will be the same. In the end, her decisions on issues before the court will probably be the same as Souter, so it’s not that big a metamorphosis that’s occurring on the court.

You had one, sir, in the back?

QUESTION: Yeah. Actually, I was asking about DLA Piper. You worked with DLA Piper?


QUESTION: It deals with foreign countries as well as (inaudible), no? And if yes, which states are --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I didn’t understand. What was the --

QUESTION: It deals – DLA Piper, a lobbying organization --


QUESTION: -- with foreign country as well, right, as far as I know?


QUESTION: And which countries are this? I’m interested in --


QUESTION: Countries.

QUESTION: What countries (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, look, let me tell you, I am of DLA Piper. I’m not with them. I am Tom C. Korologos, TCK International, which has an office in DLA Piper where they house me. They give me a secretary, they give me lights and paper clips and computers. And I do client work that they may ask me to do, mostly government affairs and Congress. We’re working on an amendment to legislation, and that’s what I provide guidance to. I don’t get – I do not do foreign clients. I’m a former ambassador.

QUESTION: Which – your year of ambassador was between which years in --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I was ambassador in Belgium from 2/4 to 2/7 – 2/4 to 2/7. So I do not register under Foreign Agent Registration Act. I don’t do foreign – foreign clients. I just do U.S. clients.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I’m independent, I guess is what I’m saying.

QUESTION: In terms of appointments, how important for presidents and their legacies are Supreme Court justices?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Super, up here, as high as it gets, unless there’s a vice president vacancy and then that’s another issue. This is the biggest single, big-deal appointment that he has. It is – and they must win. You know, boy, if they don’t win those things, they’ve got problems, and they – for the most part. Nixon lost two.

QUESTION: So you were replaced by Sam Fox in Belgium?






QUESTION: And – no, I know it for – because I used to live in St. Louis, so --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, oh, is that right?

QUESTION: And what is your view of being a former ambassador of the trip of Obama that he just did in Europe and in the Middle East? Do you --


MODERATOR: I told you they’d go all over the map on (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: That’s fine. I accept that.

QUESTION: No, but you have a very good connection from the European --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I’m an old journalist and I know what you’re coming – everybody’s come from. When I was there, I was there in the Bush years. I was there in the Iraq war years.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: And don’t you think that wasn’t tough trying to get that turned around a little bit? In fact, when I first got to Belgium, there was an amendment kicking around in the Belgian parliament to arrest war criminals, including soldiers, colonels, anybody who fought in America for the war – on the war, including Rumsfeld.

And now I go back and undo all of that. Antwerp was the biggest port for sending stuff into Iraq. They bring it in by ship and put it in Antwerp and put it on trains or whatever they did and got it to Iraq. Well, they wanted to close the port because all that armament was ugly. Well, you want me to paint the tanks pink? So what we did is got – I’m digressing just a little bit, we showed Antwerp how much it was – how much economy it was to bring in all that stuff and the U.S. Government was paying it to put it into ports. You know how many jobs you’re going to lose if we take our stuff to Rotterdam? Oh, thank you, sir. So that ended that.

So one of the jobs that I had was convincing both the government and the citizens and so on that we didn’t have horns and that we – our cause was just. And we made a lot of progress, yeah.

QUESTION: Did you have any Bush visits, any --


QUESTION: Did Bush – President Bush was there?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: He came three days.

QUESTION: Oh, and how was the --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: He came three days, that was – it was rated excellent. He went to Belgium, saw the king and the prime minister and so on, went to NATO, which is there, and went to EU, which is there.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah, yeah, they all official (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: And, you know, fed him french fries and drank Belgian beer. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: She has a question.


QUESTION: Yeah, following this (inaudible) changed the vision that Europe has now of America? I mean, because when Obama – now it seems that Europe loves America and Obama and all the changes. So you – since you were there and before, how things have changed, the image and (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: They love Obama; he’s the great savior from all the evil things that Bush did. And he went over there and wowed them; he’s a good communicator. And the jury is still out on how effective he’s going to be on things like the economy. My understanding – I’m a partisan Republican. I’m a Bush appointee, so understand where I’m coming from.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: It’s interesting to me to see that we’re going to close Guantanamo, by golly, the first day. Well, Guantanamo is still there mainly because nobody knows what to do them – do with them. And Bush had the same problems. We’re going to have – renditions are back, mainly because they’re facing the same issues and is making sort of the same decisions that poor Bush had to make, only he was pilloried and Obama, who has the gift of rhetoric, has made a better sale of it.

He’s changed up – he goes over and gives a good speech at – with the Muslims. That is an excellent approach to things. I gave a Muslim outreach program in Belgium which the State Department is replicating, brought in 30 Muslims from the U.S. and 70 from Belgium. We got together and discussed issues like identity, like medical, like employment, education, media portrayal. So all of these things – there’s nothing new under the sun except that the Democrats seem to be doing it better and they seem to have a bigger advantage with the media.

Yes, sir.

MODERATOR: We’ll go here and then we’ll come to you in New York after this question. Go ahead. Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. The Republican Party lost Hispanic votes by huge margins in the last election. But if they vote down this nominee in the Senate, what kind of a negative impact do you think that the Republican Party would get in terms of getting the Hispanic vote in (inaudible) this next determination and --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: You mean if they vote her down?


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, if they vote her down, that – I mean, that’s – see, Obama has really gained a lot. Somebody told me that 37 percent of the vote next time is going to be Hispanic. And I’m not sure how that plays. We had Colin Powell, we had Condoleezza Rice, we had – what’s his name – Jackson over at HUD. There were a lot of African Americans in our administration. I didn’t see any translation of --



But the Hispanic thing is a little different. I’m Greek. Nixon put Agnew on the ticket. Every Greek I know suddenly became a Republican. They were mostly Democrats because Roosevelt had helped them during the depression and so on. Every Greek – oh my God, it’s – it was a big deal. So this is a big deal for the Hispanic community, and bless them; it should have – probably should have been done years ago. President Bush tried to nominate Estrada to the Circuit Court; Democrats had a fit because if they put Estrada on the Circuit, that means he’s going to go to the Supreme next, and they don’t want any part of that, so they turned him down.

So I’m a little bitter if – you know, why is our Hispanic rejected and your Hispanic approved? But having said that, it would be – the other thing that happens is Florida. Florida in 2012 is going to have a huge Hispanic vote, and it’s a swing state, and there are a whole bunch of electoral votes in Florida that are going to be in play. So there’s – these guys are smart. I’ll tell you, I give Rahm Emanuel and the President great credit. They’re good politicians. I – bless them, they’re doing great, but too great.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to New York.


MODERATOR: Clayton (ph) in New York, go ahead. New York.

QUESTION: Yes, is there a – does the Senate have a special arm that conducts these background checks on nominees, or does the Senate depend on the CIA or the Secret Service or the FBI to conduct background checks?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I’ve not heard of the CIA doing anything. It’s something called the Diplomatic Security – oh, that’s a State Department function.


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: The FBI, the FB – Diplomatic Security does it for ambassadors and – like, I run through a Diplomatic Security check and the FBI gets involved. Yeah, the FBI mainly – and they do it fast, very fast, anymore – it’s a lot easier than it used to be, cause you can punch into a computer and see what my driving record is in Salt Lake and what your – any arrest records anywhere. And they also will visit your neighbors.

When you fill out the form, it’s a huge undertaking – every third grade teacher, every job you ever had. And what you do is you give them five names of people that know you best – Jim, Joe, Pete, Sam and Gus. Well, they go to Jim, Joe, Sam, Pete and Gus and they say, “Hey, Jim, give me five names that know Korologos.” So the FBI goes to you five that sort of know me and they ask, and they go to Gus and they say, “Give me five,” and they go to him. So it’s a snowball, and they check everything. My goodness, I’ve had nominees come back – I’ve got to digress again and tell you a story.

One of the first things that I ask – I’ve done three or four hundred nominations for everything, from cabinets, Supreme Court, vice presidents – I did Rockefeller and I did Kissinger in Hague and Gerry Ford and every cabinet that you can think of. And the first thing I say when they bring them in to me – and by the way, it’s all pro bono, I don’t charge anything for that – they bring them in and I – they sit down and I say, “What is there in your background you have done that’s going to embarrass you or embarrass the President? Now, Mr. Nominee, Ms. Nominee, I’m not asking you to tell me, but get an answer in your head, because it is going to show up in the FBI or in a record or somebody and it’s going to be asked in a hearing.”

Well, they all stop and think about it for a minute and they fill out the form correctly. Judge Ginsburg was accused – it was inaccurate – that he didn’t put down on his form that he had smoked pot somewhere in college. Somebody saw it; “Aha, you’re hiding that you didn’t smoke pot.” That was an exaggeration, so that was – even the conservative Republicans took him on. But I said this to one guy, he sat across my desk and he said, “How do they know that?” I said, “What?” “Well, never mind.” I don’t know what he had done, and he withdrew his name. So I don’t know whether – I never saw him again, and he disappeared off the face of the earth. And I don’t know whether he was an axe murderer or what. (Laughter.) I mean, this guy – so they check everything, to answer your question.

QUESTION: Let me follow up with that. Why is it that – well, two things. In your experience, has the FBI ever missed something? And – one; and two, what’s the big deal about – why is it that smoking pot, for instance, in some – when someone was 17 years old, why is that important, you know, 30 years later when that someone is nominated to be a Supreme Court justice or a colonel in the Army or something?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: There, is it a dilemma. You just put your finger on it. It depends on a whole lot of – that could be an excuse. The Latino thing with Judge Sotomayor is maybe an excuse for people to vote against her because of – it gives a judicial attitude. The fact that he smoked pot wasn’t the problem. The fact that he didn’t put it on the form was. So what are you hiding, Mr. Nominee?

QUESTION: Maybe he forgot.


QUESTION: He forgot the --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Okay, forgot and – yeah, that could be. I had a guy one time – well, to correlate it, what you’re asking is, I had a nominee one time who was in Georgetown when he was in school and he got stopped for drunken driving down on M Street, and got a violation – a drunken driving violation. So he took his ticket and he crossed the bridge into Virginia and got arrested in Virginia for drunken driving. In 10 minutes, he got two drunken driving arrests in two different states, and it showed up. And I took it to the committee and I said, “Hey, look here, he put it down on his form. Look what we got here,” and he said, “Oh, jeez, he was in school. Thank you for telling me.”

Another guy had a health problem which was severe, and we told the committee, “Look, this is – he’s probably going to get confirmed. This is a serious health problem that he had. He had gotten over it. The doctor overdosed him on pain pills and – but he’s over it,” and he said, “Thank you.” And they – you saw the furor with Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill. That came out of the blue and nobody knew what that was. And there are two different views on what that was all about. But they can find any – they can get you for going to church on Sunday in this town, you know?

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Where – what organization are you?

QUESTION: I’m with the New African Magazine.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the Latino thing. What do you think of the conservative attacks saying that she’s a racist? I mean, it doesn’t seem very clever if the Republicans need to raise this Latina woman (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Well, it’s a stretch to say she’s a racist. They – there’s nothing they will stop at to make accusations. And it – they accused Bork of being a racist. Remember Senator Kennedy stood up five minutes after the nomination was announced at the White House and said that we will be back – back alley abortions and return to people riding in the back of the bus and segregated fountains if Bork gets the nomination.

Now that’s an exaggeration, and it rallied the left. And I don’t know that this one – the conservatives on the talk radio that I hear once in a while are – yeah, they’re not going to like anybody that Obama nominates. He can nominate Jesus Christ and they could have trouble. But it is a ploy; I don’t know that it’s going to wash. And in the end, they can say anything they want. The only thing that counts is the vote.

QUESTION: And do you think it’s a good strategy, this one? I mean –


QUESTION: If they go to attack line? I mean, if it’s --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Well, it’s not so much an attack line on the racist – they’re not going to flat say that. They’re going to say “What did you mean by this,” and let her answer it. There are people looking at all her cases. They’re looking at trends. They’re looking at court demeanor. They’re looking at judicial presence. Judges have – judges are different than those of us in this room. We’re a bunch of outgoing and gregarious journalists that can say and do anything we want. Well, a judge can’t.

So it depends on – the hearing is going to tell a lot about her. These meetings that she’s having around are going to tell a lot about her. She’s coming off – she’s following all the rules. Somebody said – they asked her a question, you know, she said, “Don’t know.” You know, was today Tuesday? “I don’t know.” She’s being very careful.

QUESTION: Things are going Obama’s way in the polls politically. Are Republicans, though, spoiling for some kind of a fight? Do you think some of them would look at this nomination as a way to get back in the game politically?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Could be. I’m not sure that it’s in the grain in their head and it’s a strategy that they sat around a table and decided, but I’m not surprised that it might be an issue. In the end, they’re going to judge her, as they have all said, on the merits and on the cases and whatever. The only thing that they do is give advice and consent.

And that means: Is she qualified to be on the Supreme Court, or the other nominee, is he qualified to head the Bureau of Land Management or whatever the guy goes up for? Is he qualified? And they check your background, and if you have a background in it, my view is that the President ought to have a certain amount of leeway. A lot – for years, till the last what, 20, 30 years, there used to be one or two days of hearings.

And in the early days, nominees got approved the same day they got named. And it’s now become very contentious. It’s a function of this town in which we live. The town has gotten very partisan. Comity is lacking in a lot of issues. Nobody trusts anybody. You want to call it from Watergate, you want to call it from Vietnam, you want to call it from Iraq, somewhere the system has gone haywire. And it’s a system of checks and balances – balances. And we’ve kind of gotten too deep into the partisanship. You can see it every day. In the Senate and the House, the Republicans don’t talk to Democrats, Democrats weren’t invited to meetings, votes are 50 – votes are partisan, whatever, you know, the number is, six – 59 to 41. And the economic packages are an example of that.

And in the end – in the end, all of these guys got to go home and put their voting record before the people that elect them in every state. Utah is different than Massachusetts, so you’ve got to judge by how it’s going to play in your state.


QUESTION: So a Democratic president must nominate Democrat judge nominees?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Not necessarily, but --


AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Not – no, he doesn’t have to.

QUESTION: Those judge nominees are independent or they are partisan political leanings before they are being nominated?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: A president interviews the nominee, whether it’s a judge or whether it’s head of General Services Administration, and generally he’s got to be of his – what am I looking for – of his culture, of his position, of his attitude, of his suasion, political suasion. You know darn well that Obama’s not going to nominate Judge Bork, and neither is George Bush going to nominate a Sonia Sotomayor. So they nominate after doing searches and the personnel people and their political people look around. President Obama interviewed – they had a whole bunch of people on the list – the Judge Wood lady, they had the lady that was at the – Napolitano, the governor.

The only thing that they probably shouldn’t have done, they decided it’s going to be a woman. Well, you know, what’s wrong with white male liberals? I didn’t see a one. And The Washington Post had a picture of every woman nominee that they could find across the top of the page. There wasn’t one white male in the bunch. Aren’t there no white male liberal qualified judges? Now, that’s a very partisan racist remark on my -- (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So in the Supreme Court, right now, there are eight judges. Six of them are Republican nominees, nominated by the Republican president. But in those – making decisions, sometimes they cross the party line?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Oh, all the time. Look what Souter did. Oh, my gosh, that’s one of the complaints that the Republicans have about Souter, see. They put Souter on there, and ten minutes after he got on the court, he was voting with the Democrats. (Laughter.) And then you get Sandra Day O’Connor, who was appointed by President Reagan, got on the court and she was part-time Republican – not Republican, part-time with the liberal wing, part-time with the conservative wing. And now that she’s gone, Justice Kennedy is doing the same thing – jumping, depending on the issue. Yesterday, he did the thing on the judges and elections cannot have partisan campaign contributions.

So it – and I have a sense – I’m telling you, I have the sense that Judge Sotomayor is going to be a little more independent than a lot of people think. She’s a feisty – the things that I read, she’s a feisty, gutsy gal. And she’s going to go in there and somebody’s going to wake up in about a year or two and say, my God, how did she do that? You just watch. She’s got an independent streak in her that’s going to surprise a couple of people.

QUESTION: Do you think – the last question: Do you think the position of Secretary of State is more attractive than the Supreme Court judge?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: That’s a relative question. The Supreme Court judge is a lifetime appointment. You sit in the hallowed halls and you make big, deep decisions and thoughts. That is the number one serious job in our country. The Secretary of State is an important, different job. The Secretary of State has the whole world to worry about, you know, 192 countries, ambassadors everywhere, and you’ve got to run to the Middle East and you’ve got run to Korea and you got to run to Latin America. And the Secretary of State – this is another thing I hadn’t better say, cause I’ll get in trouble – the Secretary of State has to work. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Because she perhaps turned down the offer a few months ago.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: For the Supreme Court? Could be, I don’t know – you know, I don’t know what is in her mind about that. But I’d be surprised if – I don’t know if she turned it down. That’s hard to turn down.

See, the other thing – let me tell you the other thing, you don’t have to be a lawyer to be on the Supreme Court. The President can pick anybody he wants.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador?


QUESTION: About your interesting story about the detail on --


QUESTION: -- to survive the confirmation process (inaudible) by Mr. Chairman (inaudible).

MODERATOR: The Washington Post article.


QUESTION: He’s talking about that, yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Yes, but what do you think – how much affects these hearings (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Help me, Jim, I don’t --

MODERATOR: How much effect do the hearings what?

QUESTION: Yeah, this is – this means a very specific hearing attitude.

MODERATOR: The one he described?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: The hearing is important. Yeah, the hearing – you can hurt – you can kill yourself in a hearing. Bork hurt himself bad in the hearing by saying to Biden how to go. He said, “Why do you want to be on the court,” and he said it’s a veritable feast – a veritable legal feast. Well, that said, well, what’s that? That means you’re going to be an activist judge legislating from the court. They don’t want that. They don’t want legislation coming from the courts. It’s a separation. Congress makes the legislation. So it got implied and got wrapped around the axel and it hurt Bork. So you got to be careful what you say in a hearing.

And the hearing – that’s why I go back to what I said there at the beginning – you’ve got to give a commencement address, be passionate and mellow and elegant, and not say anything.

MODERATOR: Anybody who hasn’t asked a question want to ask one yet?


MODERATOR: One second, Ben, you’ve asked a lot – (laughter) – but we’ll get to you. Does anybody else want to ask a question?

QUESTION: You just mentioned that in Florida, Hispanic population number is growing. And just – I mentioned it was about Texas because it might be that Texas will become Democrat little by little, because as far as I understand, more and more Hispanic people come to Texas and they vote usually for Democrats. So Texas, which is usually Republican state, can it transfer to Democrat state?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: The demographics are changing in this country all the time. Now, you go down to Florida, the Cubans – anybody here from Cuba? The Cubans don’t consider themselves Hispanics – Hispanics, Spain, Hispanics. They consider themselves Cubans. So they don’t like to be lumped into that lump. And you take the – so the demographics are always changing.

My state of Utah, where I’m from, has changed. Colorado’s changed. I mean, so it’s constantly a moving target with all the immigrants coming in. And there’s nothing different than – going on right now with the Hispanics in America. You know, the Greeks came, and the Italians came, and the Irish came, and the Chinese came and built the railroads. And, you know, it’s a rolling, constant new group that’s coming in that takes these positions, and then they get assimilated into the community and pretty soon they’re on the Supreme Court.

MODERATOR: And some of them become Republicans.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Some of them come – become because they run for Vice President.

MODERATOR: Ben, you had another?

QUESTION: Yes. You just mentioned that during the confirmation, she should try to avoid issues like abortion.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: She’s got to avoid issues.

QUESTION: Right. But how can she avoid if asked?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: That is the big problem, and that is the big issue. She’s got to avoid issues without telegraphing how she’s going to vote. She’s got to say, “Well, I believe in freedom and I believe in privacy.” But she hasn’t said she’s for or against abortion. She’s got to say, “I’m for rights of criminals, but they might have to go too far some times.” You can’t – she’s got to be awful careful.

QUESTION: Is there anything in her record indicating which way she may lean?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Yes, there will be stories written by your colleagues, especially those characters that cover the court all the time. There’ll be no nuances – “What did she mean by that” and “Indications are.” You watch and see the pundits and the columnists and the – everybody else is going to try and read into it what they want to read. And you watch Rush Limbaugh, first day after the hearing, he’ll pick up three words that she said, “Aha, she was, she didn’t” – and somebody else on the – there’s a radio station out in Colorado that I’ll listen to in the morning that is on the liberal side, try to make up for what Rush does, and nobody does that. And he will say “Aha, see I told you.” So it’s quite an exercise that we go through and it’s – somehow, it works.

QUESTION: What’s your opinion on Rush, by the way?


QUESTION: Is he helping?

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I think he’s a good entertainer.

QUESTION: -- or is he --

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: I enjoy listening to him.

QUESTION: Is he hurting or –

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: He’s a lot of fun. I don’t – he’s a little over the top sometimes. He’s fun to listen to. He’s an entertainer, like I listen to those guys Jay Leno and Letterman.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Thank you, Ambassador Korologos.

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Was that all right? Did I get in trouble?

MODERATOR: I think you got – you didn’t do the 80/20 rule, but other than that, you –

AMBASSADOR KOROLOGOS: Yeah, I sure didn’t. It’s your fault. (Laughter.) Now what kind of trouble am I in to --

MODERATOR: None – (End of recording.)

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