After a dramatic meeting Tuesday, a key Republican senator signaled Wednesday he is less likely to support the embattled nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and said he and GOP colleagues would discuss whether President Bush should withdraw Bolton's name.
Bush, meanwhile, urged the Senate to confirm Bolton, blaming partisan bickering for a delay in a committee vote on his nomination.
"John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said today. "I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations."
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is weighing the nomination, "is less likely right now" to vote to confirm Bolton, his spokesman Stephen Hourahan said. He said Chafee "wants to get to the bottom" of new allegations about Bolton's dealings with subordinates and classified information.
Chafee said the White House "has been in touch" to lobby him. Until Tuesday, when committee Democrats attacked Bolton's record and won a three-week extension to investigate it, Chafee had said he was reluctantly inclined to vote for Bolton.
A negative vote by Chafee would prevent the committee -- which Republicans control 10 to 8 -- from recommending Bolton to the full Senate. With all eight committee Democrats opposed to Bolton, a Chafee defection would lead to a 9 to 9 tie at best. The nomination then could reach the Senate floor with "no recommendation" from the committee, making it easier for unenthusiastic Republicans to vote against it.
Two other committee Republicans -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and George Voinovich of Ohio -- said Tuesday they also wanted to probe the new allegations before deciding whether to support Bolton. Voinovich's change of heart prompted the committee to spend three more weeks probing allegations that Bolton mistreated subordinates, threatened a government contractor and misled the committee about his handling of classified information.
Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, is a sometimes brusque lawyer whose sharp criticisms of the United Nations are popular in many conservative circles. But Democrats and some Republicans have questioned whether his temperament is suitable for the U.N. post.
When reporters asked Chafee on Tuesday whether Bush should withdraw Bolton's nomination, he said: "It's too early for that. We all need to talk." When later asked the same question by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Chafee replied: "We have to discuss that among ourselves, Republicans, I think."
Committee Democrats have asked to interview John E. McLaughlin, former deputy CIA director, and two other high-ranking intelligence officials about possible efforts by Bolton to transfer a Latin America intelligence analyst who had differed with him, the Associated Press reported. The senators want to know whether Bolton met with McLaughlin, another unnamed CIA official and someone with the National Intelligence Council in July 2002 to pursue his case against the analyst, a Democratic committee staff member said.
Allegations leveled at Bolton include claims that he tried to have several lower-level government officials fired or reassigned after they challenged him on assertions about various nations and other matters.
Also, Melody Townsel, a Dallas businesswoman, says that in 1994 -- when Bolton was a private lawyer for a firm at odds with her client over a contract -- he chased her through a Moscow hotel, threw things at her, threatened her and spread false rumors about her to U.S. officials overseeing the government-backed project in Kyrgyzstan.
Although Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said that other witnesses corroborate Townsel's account, her former boss disputed it in a letter to committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
Jayant Kalotra, president of International Business & Technical Consultants, described Townsel as a disgruntled former subcontractor whom he fired for poor performance.
"I certainly did not hear contemporaneously from any other employee in Moscow that anything occurred between Mr. Bolton and Ms. Townsel in Moscow," Kalotra wrote.