Democrats Will Expand Inquiry of U.N. Nominee
Republicans were bracing Wednesday for a “barrage” of new allegations against John R. Bolton, President Bush’s choice for U.N. ambassador, as Democrats planned to expand an investigation of the controversial nominee.
After a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation vote was unexpectedly delayed Tuesday, surprised and angry White House officials accused Democrats of exaggerating and making unproven allegations as part of an “ugly” partisan effort to derail the nominee.
The committee postponed the vote after Democrats had argued that additional time was needed to evaluate new allegations that Bolton intimidated and threatened intelligence analysts and others.
“What you’re seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated allegations against someone the president believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations,” said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. He contended that the nomination was “absolutely not” a lost cause.
Bolton’s nomination was thrown into question after Sen. George V. Voinovich, an independent-minded Ohio Republican, voiced concern over the allegations and said he wanted to learn more about the nominee’s record.
Voinovich’s unexpected declaration created the possibility of a deadlocked committee vote that would block the nomination from advancing to the full Senate. The Ohio senator also forced the committee chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), to agree to a delay of three weeks or more.
McClellan pointedly questioned whether Voinovich knew enough about Bolton to make an informed decision, noting that the senator had not attended the public hearings on the nomination.
“We are more than happy to answer any questions that he has, and we are in touch with him on the matter,” McClellan said.
Voinovich spokeswomen Marcie Ridgway sought to rebut the White House’s assertion that he was not well informed.
“The senator has met with Bolton] personally,” Ridgway said. “He was briefed on those hearings by staff.” She added that Voinovich had gone to the Tuesday hearing intending to vote for Bolton.
Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), a moderate who also is considered a possible swing vote, said in a CNN interview that Republicans on the committee ought to “get together and talk about this” nomination. But an aide said that Chafee did not believe the White House should withdraw Bolton from consideration.
During last week’s confirmation hearings, Bolton was questioned about whether he sought to have two intelligence analysts removed or reassigned after they disagreed with his assessments. In both cases, Bolton testified that he had lost confidence in the analysts, but did not seek disciplinary action.
Since last week’s hearings, reports of other incidents in which Bolton confronted subordinates or others over disagreements have emerged, suggesting the need for further investigation, Democrats argued.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the committee, and others said evidence had emerged that called into question some of Bolton’s sworn statements. Democratic senators and aides said that new allegations about the nominee continued to trickle in and deserved to be examined.
Republicans prepared for the worst.
“It’s probably going to be two or three weeks of a barrage of this stuff,” said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who has been a leading defender of Bolton. He contended in an interview that the allegations “aren’t based on anything that’s truthful.... They’re part of a pattern of frolics and detours.”
The committee could meet again May 10, after a weeklong congressional recess, aides said. Democratic and Republican committee staff members met briefly Wednesday to discuss the next phase of the deliberations. Among the options are a new public hearing, possibly with Bolton testifying. Aides also may compile a joint document laying out the evidence against him, along with a rebuttal.
The committee may interview John E. McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA, and two other senior intelligence officials about allegations that Bolton sought to remove or reassign an intelligence analyst, the Associated Press reported, quoting a Democratic Senate aide.
Republicans fear that Democrats are seeking to draw out the candidacy in order to weaken and ultimately kill it, so they want time limits on the deliberations. Democratic aides denied that they intended to drag out the proceeding past mid-May.
Meanwhile, the political heat being generated by the Bolton nomination has risen noticeably since Tuesday’s confirmation vote postponement.
Some conservatives urged the White House to step up efforts to defend Bolton, who has served since 2001 as the State Department’s top arms control official.
“I think it is incumbent on the White House now to speak seriously with Republicans on that committee ... to make clear why Bolton should be ambassador to the United Nations,” said Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
May added that “people like me don’t believe that this has anything to do with his management style; it has to do with politics and with the fact that Bolton is a conservative.”
A conservative California-based advocacy group, Move America Forward, said Wednesday that it planned to run a series of radio ads in Ohio complaining about Voinovich’s “obstruction” of Bolton’s confirmation. The group said it had collected more than $24,000 in a public appeal that began after the Tuesday committee hearing.
The stalled nomination posed a challenge for the White House and Republican leaders that also carried diplomatic overtones, given the international audience for the nomination of a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The Senate’s Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, said the administration would have to dig Bolton out of a political hole.
“As to whether he can reconstruct himself in that [next] hearing, only time will tell. Because right now he’s a damaged piece of goods,” Reid said.
But a Republican lobbyist with close ties to the White House and the GOP leadership said the administration remained confident because candidates accused of having difficult personalities had survived such tests before. The lobbyist pointed to the case of Richard C. Holbrooke, who came under fire for his brusque manner when he was a candidate for U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, traveling in Europe, added her voice to the administration’s defense of Bolton.
“We need a representative at the United Nations, and we are at this point without someone who can engage in what is an intensifying debate on U.N. reform,” Rice said. “That’s an area in which the United State is going to be a leader in, so we need to get somebody there.”
Times staff writers Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook in Washington, and Tyler Marshall in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report.