The White House and its allies Friday intensified their campaign to defend John R. Bolton, President Bush’s nominee to be U.N. ambassador, as a Senate committee prepared for a showdown on the candidacy next month.
Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday that an abrasive manner in the workplace should not disqualify presidential nominees.
“If being occasionally tough and aggressive were a problem, there are a lot of members of the U.S. Senate who wouldn’t qualify,” Cheney said in a speech to Republican lawyers, echoing an increasingly common defense of Bolton.
Bolton, 56, the undersecretary of State for arms control since 2001, has been under fire for allegations he bullied subordinates and intimidated intelligence analysts who disagreed with his hard-line views of foreign military threats. Questions about Bolton’s suitability forced an unexpected delay in a committee vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday.
Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after two days of private talks, agreed Friday to meet May 12 to again consider Bolton’s nomination. The two sides agreed on procedures under which they would examine witnesses and compile a final written record of their findings.
Pressing a defense of Bolton, the Senate Republican leadership distributed talking points about the nominee to members. Republican senators, such as Jon Kyl of Arizona and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who are staunchly supportive of the fiery conservative will appear on the weekend news programs.
Meanwhile, a former subordinate of Bolton’s offered to provide information to the committee about the way she said that Bolton treated her in the early 1980s, when they both worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Lynne D. Finney said Bolton had bullied her and tried to have her fired when they clashed over U.S. policy on the distribution of infant formula in developing countries -- an issue that was then highly visible and politically charged.
Finney said she was working as a USAID attorney and had developed relationships with foreign officials at the United Nations. She said that in late 1982 or early 1983, Bolton called her into his office and told her to use her influence to persuade the United Nations to ease a policy that restricted the marketing and promotion of infant formula in developing countries.
Finney objected, saying that she could not, in good conscience, push for such changes, because she believed that the improper use of formula in poor countries was jeopardizing the health of babies.
“He shouted that Nestle was an important company and that he was giving me a direct order from President Reagan,” she wrote in the letter. “He yelled that if I didn’t obey him he would fire me.”
When she persisted, Finney said, “he yelled that I was fired.”
Later Bolton learned that under a federal rule, he could not fire an employee for refusing an order that violated his or her conscience, she said.
Furious, he moved her desk from the General Counsel’s office on the top floor of the State Department building in Washington “to a shabby windowless office in the basement, in order to force me to leave,” she wrote.
“I find Mr. Bolton’s lack of concern for the deaths of thousands of babies repugnant to basic morality and human decency,” she said in her letter to Boxer.
The Swiss company Nestle and other formula makers have been accused by breast-feeding advocates of improperly promoting the use of formula in poor nations.
Finney, who lives in Utah and is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist specializing in childhood trauma, declined to be interviewed for this article. She stated in her letter to Boxer that she cared about world peace and wanted to help defeat Bolton’s nomination.
Bolton has declined to respond to allegations, saying it would be inappropriate while the committee considered his candidacy.
But a State Department official, who asked to remain unidentified, said Finney’s account was “full of erroneous information and inaccuracies.” He said the Reagan administration had stopped trying to overturn the U.N.'s rules on baby formula after it lost a vote by a wide margin.
He said that the State Department had “talked to a number of people who were there [in the USAID] at the time, and they have no recollection of these events, as described.”
Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said: “People are dragging out faded and inaccurate memories from 20 years ago to justify politically motivated attacks. They don’t withstand scrutiny.”
As the controversy over Bolton continued into the weekend, there were indications Friday that Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), an undecided member of the committee, might be leaning against Bush’s nominee.
A spokesman for Chafee, Stephen Hourahan, said the politically moderate senator had spoken several times with former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell about Bolton’s fitness for the job, adding that Chafee gave great weight to Powell’s view. Hourahan would not disclose Powell’s advice, but Powell and Bolton are known to have many policy differences.
In addition, Chafee has had several conversations with Thomas Hubbard, who was U.S. ambassador to South Korea between 2001 and 2004 and who has publicly criticized Bolton’s testimony about a provocative speech Bolton gave in 2003.
Hubbard has said he disapproved of the tone of Bolton’s speech, contradicting Bolton’s assertion that Hubbard had supported it.
Chafee’s concerns about Bolton weren’t allayed by the conversation with Hubbard, Hourahan said.
Along with Chafee, committee member Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is thought to be undecided on the nomination. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) forced Tuesday’s confirmation vote postponement when he said he was concerned about allegations against Bolton.
A fourth Republican member of the committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), indicated reservations about Bolton. Murkowski said she believed the committee “did the right thing by delaying the vote,” said Kristin Pugh, Murkowski’s communications director.
Meanwhile, Bolton’s former colleagues at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington released a letter to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate panel, disputing charges that he was a bully.
Those allegations were “radically at odds with our experiences,” the letter said. It said Bolton was “unfailingly courteous and respectful to us.”
Times staff writer Sonni Efron in Washington contributed to this report.