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Senators seek Powell's advice on Bolton

Sources: Hagel, Chafee have called U.N. nominee's former boss

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

John Bolton, the U.N. nominee, speaks last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has been pulled into the battle over the nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but just what he is saying is not publicly known.

Powell has spoken with two Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, according to spokespersons for Powell and the senators.

Bolton's nomination is before the committee, and the two senators have been wavering on whether to confirm him amid allegations of abusive management practices.

Bolton served as undersecretary of state for arms control under Powell from 2001 until 2005, a position he still holds.

Peggy Cifrino, a spokeswoman for Powell, said the former secretary "has not reached out to senators" but "has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised" about Bolton.

She declined to reveal the substance of the conversations because Powell "considers the discussions private."

Powell has not spoken publicly about Bolton's nomination. He did not sign a letter to the committee by seven former U.S. secretaries of state and defense in support of Bolton.

Steve Hourahan, a spokesman for Chafee, said the senator reached out to Powell to discuss Bolton's nomination, but he said the conversations were confidential.

Chafee said earlier this week that he was not prepared to vote for Bolton "at this point."

"I want to digest and review some of this information," he said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "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."

The Foreign Relations Committee postponed a vote on Bolton's nomination Tuesday after a Republican member, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, joined Democrats in asking for more time to investigate fresh allegations about the nominee's conduct. (Full story)

The committee, dominated 10-8 by Republicans, is expected to meet again in early May. A majority vote in favor is needed to send the nomination to the Senate floor. A tie would be the same as a no vote.

The committee is expected to meet again May 12. Republican Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana said its plans "would include the possibility that Secretary Bolton might be asked to come back for additional testimony."

Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Hagel, said the senator "speaks frequently" with Powell about a variety of topics but would not elaborate on the discussions between the two about Bolton.

Hagel said earlier this week that though he would vote to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate, he was not sure he would vote to confirm Bolton if his nomination moved to the Senate floor.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Friday that it was no surprise that senators were asking Powell about Bolton's record.

"The secretary and the State Department believe that questions of the committee should be answered," Ereli said. "Secretary Powell is answering requests for information, the way that we do, the way that any American citizen does."

But he added, "We think that once those answers are given they will lead to an inescapable conclusion. And that conclusion is that Mr. Bolton would be an excellent ambassador for the United States at the United Nations."

Republicans call Bolton a foreign policy realist who would help push U.S. calls for overhauling the United Nations.

During Bolton's confirmation hearings last week, committee members heard allegations that he tried to intimidate or have fired intelligence analysts who disagreed with him, accusations the nominee denied in his own testimony. (Full story)

Democrats said Bolton's testimony has been called into question by fresh allegations that have emerged since Bolton's appearance April 11 -- allegations they argued should be investigated by committee staff or discussed in closed session. (Full story)

Chafee said Thursday that senators have questions about what he called "discrepancies" between Bolton's testimony April 11 and the recollections of others.

"There's been a list of witnesses who have come forward -- seven different people who corroborated that Mr. Bolton tried to fire a defense analyst," Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said Thursday. "Not just one -- seven different people, all within this administration."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that 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.

President Bush weighed in on the dispute Thursday, urging senators to "put aside politics" and confirm Bolton. (Full story)

White House press secretary Scott McClellan blasted Democrats on Wednesday, saying the complaints they had raised were trumped-up and "unsubstantiated." (Full story)

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