A key Republican senator signaled yesterday that he is less likely to support the embattled nomination of John R. Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after a dramatic meeting Tuesday, and said he will discuss with GOP colleagues whether President Bush should withdraw Bolton's name.
The White House, meanwhile, launched an aggressive campaign to salvage the nomination. Spokesman Scott McClellan accused Democrats of manufacturing charges to discredit Bolton and "score political points."
A committee vote on nominee John R. Bolton has been delayed.
Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination to U.N. (The Washington Post, Apr 20, 2005)
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)
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee that is weighing the nomination, "is less likely right now" to vote to confirm Bolton, his spokesman Stephen Hourahan said in an interview. The senator, he said, "wants to get to the bottom" of new allegations about Bolton's dealings with subordinates and classified information. Until Tuesday, when committee Democrats attacked Bolton's record and won a three-week extension to investigate it, Chafee repeatedly had said he was reluctantly inclined to vote for Bolton.
A negative vote by Chafee could deeply wound the nomination because it would prevent the committee -- which Republicans control 10 to 8 -- from recommending Bolton to the full Senate. With all eight committee Democrats opposed to Bolton, a Chafee defection would lead to a 9 to 9 tie at best. The nomination then could reach the Senate floor only with "no recommendation" from the committee, a dubious status that might make it easier for unenthusiastic Republicans to vote against it.
Two other committee Republicans -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and George V. Voinovich of Ohio -- said Tuesday they also want to probe the new allegations before deciding whether to support Bolton. Voinovich's change of heart prompted the committee to spend three more weeks investigating allegations that Bolton mistreated subordinates, threatened a female government contractor and misled the committee about his handling of classified information.
Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, is a sometimes brusque lawyer whose sharp criticisms of the United Nations are popular in many conservative circles. But Democrats and some Republicans have questioned whether his temperament is suitable for the U.N. post.
When reporters in the Capitol asked Chafee yesterday whether Bush should withdraw Bolton's nomination, he said: "It's too early for that. We all need to talk." When asked the same question later by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Chafee replied: "We have to discuss that among ourselves, Republicans, I think," and he named the committee's GOP members. Blitzer said, "And you might pass a quiet message to the White House after a discussion like that?" Chafee replied: "Yes, I think that would be advisable."
Committee Democrats have asked to interview former deputy CIA director John E. McLaughlin and two other high-ranking intelligence officials about possible efforts by Bolton to transfer a Latin America intelligence analyst who had differed with him, the Associated Press reported. The senators want to know whether Bolton met with McLaughlin, another unnamed CIA official and someone with the National Intelligence Council in July 2002 to pursue his case against the analyst, a Democratic committee staff member said.
Bush, surprised by Tuesday's committee decision to delay a vote on Bolton, is battling to save the nominee. McClellan told reporters the allegations are "trumped-up" and part of an "ugly" campaign to destroy Bolton's character. "I think what you have are some Democratic members of the committee who continue to bring up unsubstantiated accusations," he said.
The delay concerns White House officials because it gives Democrats more time to investigate Bolton's background and lodge new accusations. They are particularly concerned about Chafee and Voinovich, whom White House aides have been lobbying directly and through intermediaries, officials said.
"It's an ugly side of Washington D.C.; it's an unfortunate side of Washington D.C.," McClellan said. "But we're confident that he will be confirmed."
Bush expected some resistance from Democrats, aides said, but he did not expect what the White House calls a character assassination of the nominee.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Lithuania, said, "We want a strong voice for a reformed U.N. and for American leadership in it, and the selection of John Bolton was to perform exactly that task." Administration officials are working with Senate Republicans to answer questions raised about Bolton and to assail the Democrats.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli disputed a Washington Post report that, according to officials, Rice had told her senior staff members Monday that she did not want information coming out of the department that could hurt Bolton's nomination. Ereli called that "very inaccurate" but declined to elaborate on what was said in the meeting.
Allegations leveled at Bolton include accusations that he tried to have several lower-level government officials fired or reassigned after they challenged him on assertions about various nations or other matters. Also, a Dallas woman says that in 1994 -- when Bolton was a private lawyer for a firm at odds with her client over a contract -- Bolton chased her through a Moscow hotel, threw things at her, threatened her and spread false rumors about her to U.S. officials overseeing the government-backed project in Kyrgyzstan. Committee members also want to know why Bolton sometimes sought the identities of Americans named in conversations monitored by the National Security Agency.
Staff writer Dafna Linzer contributed to this report.