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White House blasts Dems over Bolton

Rice says Bolton's 'management style' not relevant

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Presidential adviser Dan Bartlett discusses John Bolton's nomination.

New accusations delay a committee vote on John Bolton.

Democrats grill nominee John Bolton on the United Nations.
John Bolton
Condoleezza Rice
United Nations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House blasted Senate Democrats on Wednesday for delaying a vote on President Bush's choice for U.N. ambassador, saying nominee John Bolton was the victim of trumped-up complaints about his treatment of subordinates.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed a scheduled vote on Bolton's nomination Tuesday when a Republican member balked at voting during a contentious hearing.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the committee's Republican chairman, agreed to put off a vote scheduled for that afternoon after Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio joined Democrats in seeking a delay so the panel could investigate fresh allegations that Bolton had threatened subordinates who disagreed with him. (Full story)

"I think what you're seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated accusations against someone the president believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

The committee, which Republicans dominate 10-8, is expected to meet on Bolton's nomination again in May. A majority vote in favor is needed to send it to the Senate floor. A tie would be the same as a no vote.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters that in light of the latest allegations he thought the nominee is "a damaged piece of goods."

But McClellan and other Bush administration officials expressed confidence the Senate eventually will confirm Bolton.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Russia, said questions about Bolton's "management style" should not be part of the confirmation process.

"This is an intelligent, committed person who has been a public servant several times in his career, and he will make a very fine ambassador to the United Nations," Rice said in Moscow.

"The president deserves to have the person at the United Nations that he thinks best to carry out this job."

In Washington, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Bolton is "the type of person we want" at the world body. "We feel he'll be quickly confirmed," he said.

During a Foreign Relations Committee hearing April 12, former State Department official Carl W. Ford Jr. described Bolton as a "serial abuser" who clashed with one of his intelligence analysts. (Full story)

"I've never seen anybody quite like Secretary Bolton," Ford told the committee. "I don't have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people."

In grilling about the incident before the committee the day before, Bolton said he never asked for anyone to be punished and said he was upset because the analyst went behind his back -- not that he disagreed with him.

Since then, Democrats said, fresh allegations have arisen about Bolton's conduct.

Reid said five people have come forward to corroborate allegations that Bolton threatened a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

He said among the allegations was that Bolton told "absolute lies" that the woman faced indictment for stealing government funds.

"The committee did the right thing yesterday," Reid told reporters. "And as to whether or not he can reconstruct himself at that hearing, time will only tell. But it will take some reconstruction, because right now he's a damaged piece of goods."

Voinovich -- who missed Bolton's appearance before the committee April 11 -- said he would not "feel comfortable" about voting on the nominee before the claims were investigated.

McClellan said the White House would be "more than happy to answer any questions that he [Voinovich] has."

"We are in touch with him about those matters," he said.

Asked about his characterization of the allegations as being "unsubstantiated," McClellan refused to elaborate.

"I'm not going to go and dignify these unsubstantiated accusations from this podium by responding to them," he said.

Rice dismissed the criticism of Bolton's conduct and said the nomination should go forward.

"I think we make a mistake when suddenly comments about management style become part of the confirmation process," she said.

Rice said the United States is "at a severe disadvantage" without a U.N. representative in place as the reform process goes forward at the United Nations.

Besides Voinovich, two other Republicans on the committee -- Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island -- have expressed doubts about Bolton.

Chafee said Wednesday he was not prepared to vote for Bolton "at this point."

"I want to digest and review some of this information," he said on CNN. "I want to support the president when I can. He won the election. He gets to choose his people. But we have our duty also."

Lugar did not set a date for a new hearing, but said the committee's plans "would include the possibility that Secretary Bolton might be asked to come back for additional testimony."

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is not a committee member, said he supports Bolton but that he was concerned the nomination would die a "death of a thousand cuts."

During Tuesday's stormy hearing, Voinovich said he thought "one's interpersonal skills and their relationship with their fellow man is a very important ingredient in anyone that works for me. I call it the kitchen test. Do we feel comfortable about the kitchen test?"

Referring to hearings on the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, Voinovich reminded committee members that he "put a hold on Richard Holbrooke because Mr. Holbrooke was reported to me to be a kind of a nasty guy, arrogant and so forth."

"And I brought him in," Voinovich said, speaking of Holbrooke. "I spent an hour and a half with him. I talked with him. I said, 'You know, you're an arrogant guy. We have problems at the United Nations.'

" 'And the question is whether or not you're going to be able to go in there and work with other people to get things going, particularly since we have a little problem over there from the public relations.' "

He added, "Finally, I took the hold off, but didn't till I talked with the former secretary of state and the former ambassador at the United Nations and finally took the hold off."

CNN's Dana Bash and Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

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