Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday challenged the credibility of John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee for United Nations ambassador, arguing that his attempts as a State Department official to transfer intelligence analysts who disagreed with him indicated a willingness to distort information for political advantage.
Bolton, 56, a conservative who has been bluntly critical of the United Nations in the past, opened a contentious confirmation hearing by declaring his determination to reform the international institution and "forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations."
But his confirmation hearing is shaping up as the most acrimonious battle yet in a string of controversial appointments Bush has made as he begins his second term, including naming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, an architect of the war in Iraq, to head the World Bank.
The Senate committee's seven-hour hearing provided a forum for Democratic criticism of what they call go-it-alone diplomacy in the Bush administration and accusations of misusing intelligence data during the run-up to the Iraq war.
"We've just come off the most massive intelligence failure in our history, and we recognize that there are serious questions still outstanding about the degree to which that intelligence was manipulated," said Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass. "So it is vital to the security of the American people whether or not Mr. Bolton in his position was party to the same kind of activities."
With Republicans holding a 10-8 majority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is expected to vote Thursday on Bolton's nomination, the swing vote is moderate Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-R.I., who is being lobbied by both sides. A 9-9 tie would block the nomination unless a majority of the committee decides in a separate vote to pass it on to the full Senate. Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats.
During a break in the hearing, Chafee repeated past statements that he is "inclined" to vote in favor of confirmation. Several Democrats cited past comments of Bolton that they contend show hostility for the United Nations.
Bolton once told an interviewer that a Security Council that accurately reflected the current world would have only one veto-wielding permanent member: the United States. And he said in a 1994 speech that the United Nations would lose nothing by lopping 10 stories off its 38-story headquarters in New York.
"I'm surprised that the nominee wanted the job that he's been nominated for, given the many negative things he said about the U.N.," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del.
But Republicans said Bolton would be an ideal champion for reform of an institution wounded by revelations of corruption in its Iraqi oil-for-food program.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., called Bolton the "absolute perfect person" for the post.
Much of the hearing focused on Bolton's actions after a disagreement with intelligence analysts over biological weapons programs in Cuba. Bolton, then undersecretary of state for arms control, clashed with the analysts while seeking clearance for a 2002 speech contending that Cuba was engaged in a germ warfare program and sharing the products with rogue nations.
The hearing continued today with a former chief of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research calling Bolton a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who abused analysts when they disagreed with his views of Cuba's weapons capabilities.
"I have never seen anyone quite like Mr. Bolton," Carl W. Ford Jr. testified. "He abuses his authority with little people."
Contradicting Bolton's assertion that he never tried to have officials who disagreed with him discharged, Ford charged that Bolton tried to sack one analyst, Christian Westermann, and that Bolton was a "serial abuser."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said it was not an isolated incident, adding that Bolton had harassed at least three officials who disagreed with him on the extent of threats he saw posed by Cuba and other countries.
Calling Bolton a "bully," Boxer said, "I think Mr. Bolton needs anger management at a minimum and he does not deserve to be promoted" to the U.N. post.
Chafee said the analysts criticized by Bolton kept their jobs.