John Bolton
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images file
John Bolton
updated 4/21/2005 6:23:26 PM ET 2005-04-21T22:23:26

President Bush prodded the Senate Thursday to confirm John R. Bolton as U.N. ambassador and blamed politics for holding up the vote. Bush’s 2004 presidential challenger said that if Bolton is approved he will be weakened by the allegations against him.

Two days after the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee abruptly postponed plans to vote on the nomination, Majority Leader Bill Frist said he strongly supports Bolton but “I can’t speak for all of leadership” of the Senate GOP.

No top Senate Republican has voiced opposition, but unexpected cracks in his support by some GOP senators have put the nomination in question. The White House is lobbying three Republicans on the Foreign Relations panel whose reluctance derailed Tuesday’s planned vote and set in motion three more weeks of probing into questions including how he treated subordinates who disagreed with his views.

'Right man at the right time'
Before speaking to a meeting of insurance agents about Social Security, Bush described Washington as a place where “sometimes politics gets in the way of doing the people’s business.”

“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.

As it resumed digging into Bolton’s past, the Foreign Relations panel received a new accusation of abusive behavior by the nominee, according to a Democratic committee staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The latest allegation dates to the Reagan administration, when Bolton was general counsel for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and concerns reports that Bolton berated another agency employee and tried to get the person fired, said the aide, who would provide no further detail.

In addition, Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea who served under Bush, challenged Bolton’s testimony to the committee that he had praised Bolton for a 2003 speech denouncing Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, as a “tyrannical dictator.”

'He hung up on me'
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hubbard said he advised Bolton against making the speech, which prompted North Korea to denounce Bolton as a “bloodsucker” and which roiled already difficult talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“I asked Bolton to tone the speech down,” Hubbard said. Bolton agreed to some factual changes but went ahead with his denunciation of the North Korean leader.

Hubbard, now with a Washington law firm, also said Bolton berated him for failing two years ago to arrange a meeting for him with the president-elect of South Korea, Roh Moo-Hyun.

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“He hung up on me,” Hubbard said. “He was very angry.”

An account of Hubbard’s complaints first appeared on Newsweek’s Web site on Wednesday.

'It's not politics'
On the Senate floor, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said a hiatus is prudent while the committee explores allegations and questions about Bolton’s fitness for the job.

If Bolton has not been candid about accusations against him, Kerry said, “that is a serious problem, it’s not politics.”

Kerry also said if Bolton were to get the job “with proof that there is in fact a retribution system for not providing the intelligence according to what that person wanted ... that’s a problem, it’s a serious problem.”

Republicans tried to shore up the nomination on the Senate floor, where both moderate and conservative lawmakers came to Bolton’s defense.

Moderate Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., likened Bolton’s ordeal to a death by a thousand cuts. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has sometimes been at odds with the Bush White House, followed a short time later with a strong endorsement, saying Bolton’s reputation as having a volatile temper should not disqualify him from a job where he could help steer needed reform at the world body.

“I believe John Bolton could provide the medicine the United Nations needs,” McCain said.

No comment from Bolton
The Senate committee reached no consensus Thursday on whether to ask Bolton to return for more questioning. Bolton testified for eight hours last week and answered more questions in writing, but has been unable to stem a stream of allegations that he mistreated people he worked with and let his temper get away from him.

Bolton himself has not commented since his testimony.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush was not doing any personal lobbying on the matter.

The committee is looking into roughly a dozen allegations that Bolton either verbally roughed up underlings or abused his authority in his current job as the State Department’s arms control chief. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has come close to accusing Bolton of lying to senators, and Democratic committee staffers are double-checking some of his testimony against government records and through questions to top former intelligence officials.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said, “We have a personality conflict here, which should not bar confirmation in terms of some of the things I heard in the hearing.”

“I still support him, but I’m looking into the specifics of these new allegations,” he said. Still, he added: “I don’t think these issues rise to the level of disqualifying him.”

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