Dems May Delay Vote on Bolton

Democrats called on the Bush administration to turn over documents for a Senate committee’s probe of John Bolton on Thursday, and hinted they may try to delay a vote on his nomination for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Joseph Biden, top Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Democrats agreed to a May 12 deadline for the committee to vote on Bolton only if the administration provided requested documents and witnesses in the committee’s inquiry into his suitability for the position.

“My Democratic colleagues and I would consider the failure to produce the requested documents in a timely manner a lack of cooperation,” Biden said.

The Foreign Relations Committee is to vote next week on President Bush’s pick for U.N. ambassador, after a review of accusations that Bolton bullied subordinates in the State Department and tried to force intelligence analyzes of Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran to conform to his hard-line views.

Biden of Delaware also disputed a letter Republican committee chairman Richard Lugar sent Rice suggesting that the State Department may not be able to meet Democrats’ full request. Lugar called some of it “extremely broad” and with “marginal relevance.”

“That is not my view,” Biden wrote Rice, adding that the documents “go directly to an issue the committee has been pursuing, namely whether in speeches and testimony, Mr Bolton sought to exaggerate the conclusions that could reasonably be drawn from available intelligence.”

The committee’s interviews and review of documents were to wind down on Friday to give members time to evaluate the information before they vote.

Questioned by reporters, Rice said, “We have every desire to have the committee have the information that it needs” to assess Bolton. “I believe that we are responding to the committee chair when asked to do so and we will do so as rapidly as possible.”

Much of the additional material Democrats want centered on Bolton’s clashes with intelligence agencies on assessments of Syria’s weapons programs, a Democratic committee aide said.

While Lugar, of Indiana, cited specific information the committee wanted in his letter to Rice, he did not mention the Syria-related documents, the aide said.

Lugar’s spokesman, Andy Fisher, said there was no reason to consider postponing the vote. “There’s going to be sufficient information and discovery on each of these cases for senators to make a decision and vote on May 12,” he said.

Fisher said material not cited in Lugar’s letter “involved the internal debate process” to develop speeches and congressional testimony that were “just not relevant.”

Senators also were still awaiting transcripts of communications intercepts involving Americans that Bolton had sought. During Bush’s first term, Bolton made 10 such requests out of a total of 400 submitted to the National Security Agency by the State Department.

“The office of the Director of National Intelligence is in discussions with the chairman of the Intelligence Committee to determine the best way to meet the committee’s needs,” said a government official familiar with the proceedings.

The Intelligence Committee is chaired by Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, but the panel’s ranking Democrat, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, requested the transcripts.

The Foreign Relations Committee was forced to postpone a vote on Bolton late last month after Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich said was not prepared to support him. 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.

With a 10-8 Republican majority on the committee, Republicans must stick together to avoid a tie which could stall the nomination.