Senator’s Worries Put U.N. Nominee on Hold

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Times Staff Writer

In an unforeseen setback for the Bush administration, a Senate committee delayed a key vote on John R. Bolton’s nomination to be U.N. ambassador after a Republican senator announced Tuesday that he was not prepared to vote for Bolton.

Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) surprised Republicans and Democrats by saying he would not vote to confirm Bolton, based on evidence laid out by angry Democrats that Bolton had bullied and intimidated intelligence analysts and subordinates.

Bolton now must withstand at least three more weeks of investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which could subpoena new witnesses or require him to appear again to answer fresh questions.


Senators and aides from both parties said they could not predict the outcome of the battle over Bolton, whose blunt and tough personal style as much as his ideology had made him the most controversial of President Bush’s nominees.

The delay, a victory for Senate Democrats, was the latest sign that Republican moderates in Congress might be starting to bridle at their party leadership’s strong tilt to the right and insistence on party discipline.

Before Tuesday’s committee meeting, two moderate Republicans, Sens. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, had said they were concerned about the allegations against Bolton, but remained inclined to support him.

That led the committee chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), to conclude that the 10 Republicans on the committee would rebuff pleas from the eight committee Democrats for more time. Lugar expressed irritation at parliamentary moves earlier Tuesday by Democrats seeking to delay the vote, and insisted a committee vote be held Tuesday.

“We were not born yesterday,” Lugar told the Democrats. “The Republicans want to vote for John Bolton, and there are 10 Republicans here.”

Democrats complained that Lugar was trying to ram the nomination through the committee and that they had not had time to substantiate or refute allegations against Bolton that began when a fellow State Department official testified that Bolton was a bully and a “serial abuser” of underlings.


Lugar attempted to cut off the debate. “We have indulged, I believe, in a lot of give,” he said. “So, the give is over.”

Then, however, Voinovich spoke up, saying that the treatment of subordinates was an important issue to him, and that if forced to vote Tuesday, he would oppose Bolton. “I’ve heard enough today that I don’t feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton,” Voinovich said.

Facing a 9-9 tie that would block the nomination from going to the full Senate and potentially embarrass Bush, Lugar agreed to delay the vote until mid-May.

A tie would prevent the committee from forwarding the nomination to the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 55-45 majority. The committee also could forward the nomination to the full Senate with no recommendation, but that action also would require a majority committee vote.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) gave his word that Democrats would not to try to delay a vote on Bolton beyond mid-May.

None of the three key GOP moderates said they planned to oppose Bolton, but they agreed more time was needed to address outstanding questions.


Voinovich, who missed last week’s confirmation hearing, is known as a maverick Republican who has disagreed before with Bush administration stances.

Chafee had said just before the committee meeting that he had decided to vote for Bolton. But Tuesday night, Chafee spokesman Stephen Hourahan said continuing revelations and questions about Bolton’s veracity under oath had put Chafee back into the undecided camp.

Hagel said he might vote in committee to send Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate, but could vote against confirmation on the Senate floor.

“I think these charges are serious enough to demand ... further examination,” Hagel said.

Bolton, who has served since 2001 as undersecretary of State, has been a harsh critic of the United Nations. His supporters say that qualifies him to lead U.N. reform efforts.

But Biden and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) tried to persuade Republicans not to send an official accused of politicizing intelligence to the U.N. at a time when U.S. credibility on such issues was at a low point.

The Democrats sought to close the meeting to present unproven new allegations against Bolton, but Republicans refused. So in an unusual public session, Biden and Dodd questioned Bolton’s truthfulness and described new evidence they believed should be examined.


In one case, according to Biden and committee staff, Bolton had been involved in a bitter dispute while working at the Justice Department with an attorney who attempted to extend her maternity leave for health reasons. Bolton reportedly threatened her with dismissal if she did not return to work, they said.

The committee was also provided with information that when Bolton left the administration of President George H.W. Bush in 1992, he was not invited to return to Covington & Burling, the prestigious Washington law firm where he had been a partner, because of abusive treatment of subordinates there, according to staffers.

“I would ask you to ... call his old law firm and ask why they didn’t bring him back,” Biden told fellow senators. “Ask ... how he treated the people who worked with him.”

However, Biden also said the evidence needed to be examined further. “I may be wrong about that,” he said. “Maybe the phone call I got is not accurate.”

Biden also said the committee should investigate further Bolton’s testimony that he had never attempted to have any intelligence analyst fired or removed. In one case, Bolton clashed with a CIA analyst over a speech Bolton had delivered in 2002. He met with a senior CIA official, Stuart Cohen, and asked that the analyst be reassigned, Cohen told the committee.

Bolton testified that he had driven from the State Department to CIA headquarters on his way home to stop by for an introductory chat with Cohen. In the course of the visit, Bolton said, he mentioned that he had lost confidence in the analyst.


But Biden said appointment logs obtained from the State Department showed Bolton first went to the State Department, then drove to the CIA for a morning meeting with Cohen, and then returned to the State Department for an afternoon of meetings. If the logs are correct, Biden said, it suggests that Bolton’s agenda for the CIA visit was much more than a drop-by.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) noted that four witnesses had told the committee that on at least three occasions Bolton sought to have intelligence analyst Christian Westermann removed. Kerry read aloud Bolton’s testimony that he “never sought to have Mr. Westermann fired at all.”

Democrats also called for an investigation into an allegation that Bolton attempted to intimidate and harass a Dallas woman working for a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor in Kyrgyzstan in 1994. Melody Townsel told the committee that Bolton, then a private attorney representing an AID subcontractor, threatened her, pounded on her hotel room door and threw documents.

In an interview Tuesday with the Times, Uno Ramat, who was working for the subcontractor, supported Townsel’s account. Ramat said he was in daily telephone contact with Townsel during the period when she said she was being harassed by Bolton in Moscow, and remembers her telling him about the incidents.

Ramat also said Bolton told him that Townsel was “under investigation -- that she was being accused of stealing money, basically of fraud.” He added: “I knew it wasn’t true.”

Senate staffers said the committee had a second witness who corroborated Townsel’s story but could not supply details late Tuesday.


Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.