Senate Staff Interviews Bolton Critic

The Senate committee weighing John Bolton’s troubled nomination for U.N. ambassador on Friday interviewed former deputy CIA director John McLaughlin, who has been described as having clashed with Bolton on intelligence analyses.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff interviewed McLaughlin as part of the examination driven by Democrats and a few Republicans of whether Bolton bullied subordinates and tried to force analyzes of Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran to conform to his hardline views.

McLaughlin was asked about his intervention to block a transfer Bolton sought of Fulton Armstrong, then a national intelligence officer for Latin America, a Democratic committee aide said.

The aide said the committee staff also questioned three others about accusations brought by a former U.S. Agency for International Development contractor that Bolton angrily chased her through a Russian hotel, threw things at her and spread malicious rumors in a dispute over a foreign aid project.

The White House has stepped up its defense of Bolton, its current top diplomat for arms control. President Bush said in a news conference on Thursday Bolton’s “blunt” style would be an asset in pushing reforms at the United Nations.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Foreign Relations Committee member, said in a statement testimony about Bolton’s behavior “might be a bit of a lesson to Mr. Bolton and a reminder to the rest of us of how unattractive it is to shout at an associate or unnecessarily dress down a staff member.”

But Alexander said he was sticking by his support for Bolton.

Several other committee Republicans said they were withholding judgment until the committee examination is completed on May 6, before a May 12 committee vote.

With Republicans holding a 10-8 majority on the committee, they needed to hold their ranks to avoid a tie, which would not advance the nomination.

The committee postponed the vote last week after Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich said was not prepared to support Bolton. Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also said they wanted more time to review accusations.

“We’ve got two weeks of examination of serious allegations and interviewing witnesses and looking at documents and all that goes into that … I can’t commit how I’m going to vote on Bolton until I see the results,” Hagel said on Wednesday.