Panel Delays Vote on Bolton Nomination to U.N.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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.
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.