Thursday, May 12, 2005

Senate Panel Probing Bolton Down to Wire

Senate Panel Probing Bolton Down to Wire

AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Wednesday kept up an investigation of John R. Bolton on the eve of a showdown vote on the troubled nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Democrats who claim he is too hotheaded or unbending say they could try to hold up a final vote in the full Senate.

A Senate committee held private interviews with two State Department officials who worked with Bolton in his current job as the department's arms control chief. The Democrat who is leading the opposition to Bolton said he is asking the nominee directly for additional information.

Republicans claimed to have the support in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee needed to confirm Bolton. Democrats acknowledged as much, saying they probably could not stop Bolton at the committee's scheduled meeting on Thursday.

The committee planned a lengthy debate, largely on the Democrats' accounting of three weeks of inquiry into Bolton's conduct and fitness for the job.

All eight Democrats on the 18-member GOP-led committee oppose Bolton. For weeks, they have tried to raise enough questions about Bolton's conduct and temperament to persuade at least one Republican committee member to defect.

"Democrats continue to feel that Mr. Bolton is the wrong person for the job," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

A 10-8 party-line vote would send Bolton's nomination on to the full Senate, where Republicans have a larger majority.

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said it is possible that Bolton's nomination could be blocked by a Democratic filibuster in the full Senate.

"It is not my intention to do that but it depends on how this plays out," Biden said.

Added Dodd: "It's certainly a real possibility."

Among four committee Republicans who have expressed reservations about Bolton, only Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, appeared to remain on the fence.

"At this stage of the game we're going to make that decision tomorrow," Voinovich said.

Bolton met on Wednesday with one of those Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She told reporters afterward that she was prepared to support him.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., indicated he would vote for Bolton, barring a last-minute development.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., has said he was waiting to hear what would come out Thursday, but that he had seen nothing thus far to keep him from voting for Bolton.

"My hope and my general prediction is that we will have a motion that will bring John Bolton to the floor and that that will succeed," said the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Lugar spoke to reporters outside the White House after a half-hour meeting with President Bush about the president's recent European trip. He said the Bolton nomination did not come up at the meeting.

The White House, which has lobbied hard for Bolton since GOP misgivings forced a surprise delay in the vote last month, is predicting victory.

"We've been in close contact with members of the committee. And we believe that John Bolton will be voted out of committee and that he will be confirmed on the floor of the Senate," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.

The State Department sent the committee additional internal documents requested by Democrats. The material, focused on Bolton's use of intelligence data on Syria, was less than Democrats had requested, said Biden's spokesman, Norm Kurz.

Biden said he planned to send a letter directly to Bolton, asking if the nominee would object to release of paperwork he filed when requesting secret information from the National Security Agency.

It was not immediately clear if Bolton received the letter Wednesday.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee had a private briefing Tuesday about the contents of Bolton's requests for the names of U.S. officials whose communications were picked up by the spy agency. Deputy National Intelligence Director Michael Hayden did not disclose the names, senators said.

At least two intelligence officials were interviewed Wednesday by that committee.

They included Larry Gershwin, who handled biological weapons issues at the National Intelligence Council, and an official from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research whose name was not released. Gershwin was involved in reviewing a 2002 speech Bolton gave on reports of biological weapons in Cuba.