In 2003, John R. Bolton, President Bush's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, ordered a young official working closely with then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell removed from duties in the State Department's nonproliferation bureau in what U.S. officials described as a third attempt by Bolton to purge career officials he perceived as impeding his policy goals.
The officials, who would discuss the incident only on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it, said Rexon Ryu, an expert on nonproliferation issues in the Middle East, was transferred to another bureau after he failed to produce a document requested by Bolton's chief of staff.
Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security for the past four years, reportedly accused Ryu of concealing the information and of insubordination. One of the officials recalled Bolton saying that he had a file on Ryu and did not want him to work on issues he was involved in.
John Wolf, Ryu's former boss, said that Ryu was a brilliant and dedicated civil servant, and that the allegations were found to be baseless.
Bolton is amid a confirmation battle that has centered on accusations that he tried to fire or transfer two intelligence analysts who challenged him on facts and evidence relating to Cuba. In testimony this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, intelligence officials described Bolton as a bully who berated junior officials in other bureaus or government agencies.
Nominees traditionally refrain from speaking publicly during the confirmation process, and the State Department said it had no comment about the allegations involving Ryu. Ryu also declined to comment.
On Monday, Bolton said during his confirmation hearing that he did not seek the outright dismissal of the two intelligence analysts. But he said he had lost confidence in their work and wanted them moved to different portfolios. Neither analyst worked for Bolton at the time, and neither was removed or reprimanded.
Bolton was not asked about confrontations with his own staff. But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) is seeking additional information from Bolton before the committee meets on Tuesday to vote on the nomination. Committee sources said Biden submitted three dozen questions in writing to Bolton on various issues, including whether he sought the removal or reassignment of other officials and how he used intelligence to further policy goals.
Democrats, who blocked a vote on Bolton this week, are hoping that new information may persuade Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) to vote against the nomination. Chafee said earlier this week that testimony from former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr., who described Bolton as a "serial abuser," was compelling but that he did not see a pattern in Bolton's behavior. Republicans have a 10 to 8 majority on the committee.
Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) expressed concern earlier this week about Bolton's demeanor, but said the paramount issue is the White House's confidence in the nominee and his abilities to push for changes at the United Nations.
In an interview yesterday with Fox News, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Senate to confirm Bolton, whom she described as a "good manager" and a "great diplomat."
That portrait of Bolton differed from the one former colleagues have offered in recent days. Ryu would have been in a unique position to review the testimony, having recently joined the staff of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
A graduate of Princeton University, Ryu was described by officials as a rising star in the State Department who quickly won the confidence of Powell and Wolf, then the assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation who was also Bush's envoy to the Middle East.
At the time of the incident with Bolton, Ryu was working closely with Powell on sensitive issues related to Iraq and traveling with Wolf to Jerusalem. He was also about to take on an additional portfolio -- nonproliferation discussions with Group of Eight countries -- which Bolton directed.
"Powell wanted things tightly held, and Bolton thought that meant Rexon was hiding things from him," one official said.
After Bolton accused him of concealing the document sought by his chief of staff, the nonproliferation bureau determined that Ryu's actions were unintentional.
"We looked into the concerns, found the omission was inadvertent and that there was no basis to the allegation," said Wolf, who left the State Department last year and now runs the Eisenhower Fellowships in Philadelphia. "Rexon has provided inspired and loyal service to his country, the president, Secretary Powell and to me as his immediate supervisor."
Ryu, who was then 30, was transferred to the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and then spent eight months working for Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage.
The officials said Bolton never demanded that Ryu be fired. But one of them said, "If Bolton says he doesn't want him working on any issues, what are you going to do?"