John R. Bolton's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations suffered a setback yesterday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unexpectedly decided to spend three more weeks investigating allegations that he mistreated subordinates, threatened a female government contractor and misled the committee about his handling of classified materials.
The panel's decision -- spurred by Ohio Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich's change of heart during an emotional meeting -- came after Democrats passionately argued that senators and their aides need more time to check out new accusations against Bolton, now the undersecretary of state for arms control. Panel members said they may ask Bolton, who spent a full day testifying last week, to return for more questioning.
Sen. Joseph Biden attacked John Bolton's State Department record.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
Bolton Often Blocked Information, Officials Say (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2005)
Bolton Faces Allegations That He Tried to Fire Analysts (The Washington Post, Apr 15, 2005)
Former Colleague Says Bolton Abused Power at State Dept. (The Washington Post, Apr 13, 2005)
Bolton Assures Senators Of Commitment to U.N. (The Washington Post, Apr 12, 2005)
Bolton's Tough Style, Record Face Scrutiny (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2005)
The action was a blow to President Bush, who nominated Bolton, and to Senate GOP leaders who had hoped to move the nomination to the full Senate before new allegations -- some of them vague and unsubstantiated thus far -- could result in greater opposition. Bolton's combative criticisms of the United Nations have endeared him to many conservatives, but liberals and some moderate Republicans say he lacks the temperament for the U.N. job.
The developments, which some aides called stunning, complicate matters for Bolton's backers. "The dynamic has changed," said Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), who before yesterday's session had said he was reluctantly inclined to vote for Bolton. "A lot of reservations surfaced today. It's a new day."
When the committee's meeting began at 3:15 p.m. in a cramped Capitol meeting room, Democrats and Republicans alike predicted that members would send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate on a straight party-line vote of 10 to 8. But Democrats, led by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), spent nearly an hour attacking Bolton's record. They said he repeatedly tried to dismiss subordinates who had challenged him and later misled the committee about his efforts.
"This ought to be indictable," Dodd shouted, referring to organizational charts suggesting that Bolton had targeted subordinate employees far below him in the State Department's structure.
Biden said committee aides recently heard from a person who corroborated a woman's claim -- raised after Bolton testified last week -- that Bolton, then working as a private lawyer, had chased her through a Moscow hotel in 1994, thrown things at her and falsely claimed to U.S. aid officials that she had misused funds and might go to jail. Melody Townsel of Dallas said in a letter to the committee that Bolton "put me through hell" when he represented a firm that was at odds with her client in a USAID project in Kyrgyzstan. Biden taunted GOP members pressing for a vote yesterday on Bolton's nomination, saying, "I guess you don't want to hear about that."
Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said members had enough information to vote and suggested Democrats were stalling in hopes of thwarting Bolton. "I wasn't born yesterday," he said.
But Voinovich, who had sat silently through 75 minutes of debate, suddenly announced: "I've heard enough today that gives me some real concern about Mr. Bolton." The former Ohio governor, who has opposed the White House on such issues as deep tax cuts, urged the panel to "take a little bit more time."
When two other Republicans -- Chafee and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) -- sided with Voinovich, Lugar had no choice but to agree to let committee staffers pursue the various allegations and reconvene the committee the week of May 9.
Voinovich told reporters he had begun the meeting prepared to vote for Bolton's nomination but was struck by the information presented by the Democrats. Had Lugar insisted on calling a vote, Voinovich said, he would have voted against Bolton. "I want more information" about Bolton, he said after the meeting, "and I didn't feel comfortable voting for him."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) thanked Voinovich "for his courage and independence," and urged Bush to withdraw the nomination. But the White House said it remains confident in Bolton.
"You have some Democrats who continue to raise unfounded allegations," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "Bolton testified for more than eight hours before the committee, responded to many follow-up questions in writing. . . . And we are happy to address any [other] questions the committee members might have. We look forward to him being confirmed and believe he will be."
Without naming Townsel, Biden quoted the charges she made in her "open letter" to the committee, which was released last weekend. After her client complained about the performance of the Kyrgyzstan project's chief contractor -- which hired Bolton as its lawyer -- she wrote: "Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman." Back in Kyrgyzstan, she said, Bolton told USAID officials "that I was under investigation for misuse of funds and likely was facing jail time. As US AID can confirm, nothing was further from the truth. . . . His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological."
Townsel, who runs a public relations firm in Dallas, said in an interview yesterday that "no one asked me to send the letter, but when I saw he was nominated, I knew I had to share my experiences."
Another contractor who lives in Toronto spoke with committee aides and corroborated her account, committee sources said. Biden said the committee would continue to demand documents and e-mails from the State Department, the National Security Agency and the CIA that could corroborate other allegations.
Committee staff members said they have been inundated with allegations about Bolton since former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr., called Bolton a "serial abuser" in testimony last week. "Ford's testimony broke the dam," one Democratic staffer said.
On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told her senior staff she was disappointed about the stream of allegations and said she did not want any information coming out of the department that could adversely affect the nomination, said officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The committee released 25 pages of responses yesterday to follow-up questions Bolton had been asked concerning allegations he was abusive to other officials in and out of the State Department, overreached on policy issues and mishandled intelligence. In several instances, Bolton did not directly respond to the questions or left them unaddressed.
When he was asked whether he sought to remove a State Department lawyer from a case involving sanctions that he had imposed, Bolton recalled the legal dispute at issue but did not address whether he had made the personnel request.
Bolton, who delivered a stinging speech about North Korea in 2003 that nearly derailed regional negotiations on the country, did not respond to a question about whether he was "ever asked by Secretary Powell to refrain from making public comments about North Korea's nuclear issue."
Staff writer Jim VandeHei contributed to this report.