Bolton vote delayed

[Updated] President Bush’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, will face more hearings and investigation by the Republican-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee as more allegations surfaced about his treatment of subordinates. The committee “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.

Voinovich’s move was a surprise. Opponents of the Bolton nomination had focused much of their attention on Senator Lincoln D. Chafee. Chafee and Senator Chuck Hagel both sided with Voinovich, forcing Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar to back down from his pronouncement that the Republicans were ready to vote. Douglas Jehl wrote in the New York Times, “Four of 10 Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have expressed concern about Mr. Bolton, on a panel where one Republican vote against him could keep the nomination from reaching the Senate floor.” The fourth Republican on the committee to express support for the postponement is Senator Lisa Murkowki of Alaska.

Bolton has been a controversial choice for his extreme expressions of disdain for the UN. For UN-hating conservatives, this was a plus, but Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat who supported Bolton’s nomination to his current position as the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, and “did so because [Feingold] generally believe[s] that the president has the right to choose executive branch nominees who share his overall world view, even when [Feingold] do[es] not,” was more critical of this nomination:

“[Bolton’s] blatant hostility toward the institution at which he would serve and his pattern of rogue policy-making are antithetical to the duties required of the position and would not serve U.S. interests,” Feingold said. Bolton’s record, Feingold argued, “suggests that his personal animosity toward the United Nations is so great that he would gladly see the institution dramatically weakened rather than strengthened through reform.”

Recent “allegations have painted Bolton as a hothead who dressed down junior bureaucrats and withheld information from his superiors in his current job as the State Department’s arms control chief. Democratic senators raised repeated questions at Bolton’s confirmation hearing last week about what Bolton may have done to punish or pressure underlings who crossed him. A senior colleague called him a ‘serial abuser.'” After the vote scheduled last week was delayed, more accusations surfaced. “[A] Dallas businesswoman [Melody Townsel] … says [an] irate Bolton chased [her] through a hotel and threw things at her at an international conference a decade ago.” Senator Joseph Biden read a letter from “a U.S. Agency for International Development worker in Kyrgyzstan”:

“She’s prepared to provide an affidavit. The letter she sent in, and I’m going to just take a second here, it says, ‘When I was dispatching a letter to AID, my hell began. Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door, and genuinely behaving like a madman. I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton then routinely visited me to pound on the door and shout threats.”’

Bolton told USAID officials “that [Townsel] was under investigation for misuse of funds and likely was facing jail time. As US AID can confirm, nothing was further from the truth. . . . His behavior back in 1994 wasn’t just unforgivable, it was pathological.”

Townsel’s account was confirmed by another contractor, now living in Toronto. “Committee staff members said they have been inundated with allegations about Bolton since former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr., called Bolton a ‘serial abuser’ in testimony last week. ‘Ford’s testimony broke the dam,’ one Democratic staffer said.”

Writing in, Joe Conason explains that White House claims of Democratic politicking notwithstanding, it may well be Republican doubts that kill Bolton’s nomination.

Among the earliest strikes against the Bolton nomination, for example, was the little-noticed broadside delivered by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a tough old conservative who rarely disagrees publicly with the president. Domenici is an expert on nuclear proliferation, which happens to be Bolton’s primary responsibility in his current State Department post. After observing Bolton for the past three years, Domenici has judged him harshly for failing to complete negotiations with Russia over disposal of tons of extremely dangerous weapons-grade plutonium. He first noted Bolton’s incompetence during hearings last June. “Mr. John Bolton, who has been assigned to negotiate this, has a very heavy responsibility,” he said. “I hate to say that I am not sure to this point that he’s up to it.”

Bolton seems to be as bad as anyone in the Bush Administration when it comes to manipulating intelligence to suit ideology: “Bolton’s opponents in both parties are more concerned about his alleged distortion of intelligence material to serve his ideological agenda; his attempts to secure top-secret National Security Agency communications intercepts for an unknown purpose; and the unsettling likelihood that when all the facts finally emerge, he will prove to have been untruthful in his Senate testimony about some of those incidents.” Reporting for the New York Times, Douglas Jehl writes that “declassified e-mail messages suggest animosity between Mr. Bolton and his staff on the one hand, and intelligence analysts on the other, at levels even greater than have emerged from recent public testimony by Mr. Bolton and others.”

“Senator John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, issued a strong defense of Mr. Bolton, saying on the ABC News program ‘This Week’ that the nominee had attracted Democratic criticism ‘because he’s a tough guy who supports the president’s policy.'” But “[t]he issue is ‘not whether he’s a nice guy or not,’ Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said of Mr. Bolton, in an appearance on ‘This Week.’ Mr. Biden added, ‘This is about whether or not you try to alter intelligence data, alter what intelligence data says, or intimidate experts in the intelligence community [who] say something different than you want said.'”

It’s becoming hard to understand how this nomination cannot be in very serious trouble; with any other Administration, Republican or Democrat alike, such a tainted nominee would surely have withdrawn.

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