John R. Bolton's nomination to be United Nations ambassador has been thrown into limbo amid a fresh set of allegations that include a charge that he chased a woman through a Moscow hotel a decade ago, behaving like a "madman."
The Bush administration is nevertheless standing by its troubled nominee. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that the allegations against Bolton were "trumped-up" by Senate Democrats, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
Among the new allegations were those of a Dallas businesswoman who said Bolton grew irrationally angry over a business dispute, chased her through a hotel and threw things at her at an international conference in Moscow a decade ago.
Bolton was "genuinely behaving like a madman," Melody Townsel, a former U.S. Agency for International Development worker, wrote in a letter to the committee read aloud at Tuesday's hearing by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
Biden said there was independent corroboration of Townsel's account.
Townsel is a liberal Democrat who actively opposed President Bush's re-election.
Bolton's nomination encountered a road block on Tuesday when a few Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined Democrats in asking to delay a vote on Bolton in favor of a fresh look at allegations of inappropriate conduct.
The committee set no new date for a vote, but a delay of at least two weeks seemed likely. Democrats planned to use the time to investigate new allegations that Bolton abused his authority and mistreated subordinates, and to look into Bolton's unusual request for the names of other U.S. officials whose communications were secretly picked up by a U.S. spy agency.
The postponement was a political defeat for Mr. Bush — at least in the short term — and opened the possibility that the nomination could fail.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she understands the Senate needs time to weigh the issue of his nomination, but reaffirmed her strong endorsement of Bolton.
"I continue to believe that John Bolton would be a really great
U.N. permanent representative," Rice told reporters as she flew from Russia to Lithuania on Wednesday.
Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich surprised colleagues on Tuesday by saying that Democrats had raised "some legitimate issues" that need to be explored.
"The dynamic has changed," Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said after the tense committee meeting. "A lot of reservations surfaced today. It's a new day."
There was no indication that Bolton might withdraw his name, but it was clear his nomination was in some trouble.
"My own hope is that the president decides to nominate someone else for this important position of U.N. ambassador," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said after Tuesday's tense committee meeting. "Surely there must be many other men and women who could fulfill this post with honor."
The decision to postpone a vote closed a rancorous session in which some Democrats bluntly questioned Bolton's veracity and repeatedly appealed for more time to investigate.
"We'll all have to trust each other," said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the committee chairman, in sealing the unanimous agreement.
Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the panel, and Lugar had sounded confident early in the session that he had the votes to prevail. He pushed hard for an immediate vote, over loud objection from Democrats.
The tide turned when Voinovich spoke for the first time. He did not attend Bolton's two-day confirmation hearing last week but had been presumed to be a supporter.
"I don't feel comfortable voting today," Voinovich said.
Chafee and fellow Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also expressed reservations about a quick vote, and Hagel warned that he may not support Bolton's nomination if it moves to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.
Bolton, 56, is the State Department's arms control chief. He would replace John Danforth as U.N. ambassador.
Much of Bolton's two-day confirmation hearing last week focused on claims that he retaliated against lower-level State Department employees who disagreed with him.
Since then, Democrats have uncovered other allegations about Bolton's personal dealings. Biden, the senior Democrat on the panel, said they have found instances in which Bolton's Senate testimony doesn't seem to match the facts.
After Tuesday's committee meeting, Voinovich told reporters he had planned to support Bolton but changed his mind after an impassioned critique from Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Voinovich said he did not fear retribution from the White House, which had counted on solid Republican support.
"The passion on the other side on this, I don't think is political," Voinovich said. "I think they raised some legitimate issues. I think we ought to find out what they are, I think we ought to get the information, get a chance to have (the allegations) rebutted."
Bolton may be asked to return for more testimony, and the committee may also now call additional witnesses, Democrats said afterward.