Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Senate Panel Postpones Vote on U.N. Nominee

The New York Times
April 20, 2005
Senate Panel Postpones Vote on U.N. Nominee

WASHINGTON, April 19 - A surprise last-minute defection by an Ohio Republican forced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to postpone a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday on the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

The chairman of the panel, Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, reluctantly agreed to put off any vote until next month to allow a review of what Democrats portrayed as troubling new accusations that cast doubt on Mr. Bolton's temperament and credibility.

Until the defection, by Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, the panel had appeared prepared to send the nomination to the Senate floor on a strict party-line vote. But Mr. Voinovich stunned other senators by announcing that more time was needed to explore accusations against Mr. Bolton.

"My conscience got me," he said after the stormy two-hour session. He said he had gone to the meeting planning to vote for Mr. Bolton, but changed his mind after hearing the case against the nominee made by Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, both Democrats.

"I wanted more information about this individual, and I didn't feel comfortable voting for him," Mr. Voinovich said.

The Democrats called the delay a significant setback to Mr. Bolton's prospects, providing opponents with time to seek corroboration for the accusations made since he appeared before the committee a week ago.

Among those highlighted by Mr. Biden was a statement from Melody Townsel of Dallas, a former contract worker for the Agency for International Development who wrote in an "open letter" to the committee that Mr. Bolton, as a private lawyer, routinely visited her hotel room "to pound on the door and shout threats" over two weeks in 1994 in Moscow because she had complained about inefficiency by Mr. Bolton's client, the prime contractor in a foreign aid program.

Ms. Townsel actively opposed President Bush's re-election. Mr. Biden said that her accusations remained unsubstantiated but that there was some independent corroboration.

Mr. Bolton has not addressed the accusations since they became known late last week. His aides have said that he will not respond to reporters' inquiries during the confirmation process and that any statement will be in response to questions from the committee.

Among the 10 Republicans on the panel, two in addition to Mr. Voinovich expressed concerns on Tuesday about the nomination. One senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said that he was ready to vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, but that he would not guarantee that he would vote in favor of the nomination on the floor.

"I think the charges are serious enough that they demand, or cry out, for further examination," Mr. Hagel said at the committee meeting.

The second Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, did not make his views known at the hearing, but told reporters later that he was glad that the vote had been postponed.

"I don't know if I've ever seen, in a setting like this, a senator changing his mind as a result of what other senators said," Mr. Chafee said. "The process worked. It's kind of refreshing."

Until Mr. Voinovich spoke up near the end of the session, he had not figured in speculation about wavering among Republicans. Mr. Voinovich had not attended either of the committee hearings last week on the Bolton nomination, citing the press of other Senate business. The only doubts expressed in public by Republicans on the panel had come from Mr. Chafee and Mr. Hagel.

Mr. Lugar had pushed throughout the session for a vote, saying President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deserved a swift decision on the nomination.

Asked to comment on the decision, a spokesman for the State Department, Adam Ereli, said: "Our only comment is that we believe that Mr. Bolton's nomination is a good one. He'll be a strong candidate, and we hope for him to be in New York so he can begin the important work he has there."

At one point, Mr. Lugar asked that the roll be called for a vote.

But Mr. Voinovich spoke up to say, "I have heard enough today that it gives me some concern about Mr. Bolton."

After some hasty discussion, Republicans and Democrats agreed unanimously to put off any decision until the first week of May, when the Senate returns from a weeklong recess.

The parties agreed to ask the committee staff to investigate the accusations against Mr. Bolton and seek further information from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency about reports that he sought to intimidate intelligence analysts. The committee held out the possibility that Mr. Bolton, who appeared before the panel last Monday in a daylong session, could be called again.

To date, just one former official, Carl W. Ford Jr., a former assistant secretary of state, has testified in public against him.

The testimony of other officials, including Christian W. Westermann, the top biological weapons expert in the State Department, and Fulton T. Armstrong, a former intelligence officer for Latin America, has been placed on the public record.

The two men have said Mr. Bolton sought their removal from their positions because he objected to their intelligence assessments of the biological weapons program in Cuba. Neither official reported to Mr. Bolton, but he has testified that he lost confidence in them and sought their transfers.

Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.