WASHINGTON – John R. Bolton (search) appeared a step closer to confirmation as ambassador to the United Nations despite scathing testimony Tuesday by a former State Department intelligence chief that he was a "serial abuser" of analysts who disagreed with his hard-line views.
A committee vote to send President Bush's nomination of Bolton, who has frequently dismissed the United Nations as irrelevant and misguided, to the full Senate could come as early as Thursday, depending on whether his Democratic foes request a few days to review State Department documents they sought to have declassified.
Carl Ford Jr. (search), a former chief at the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research (search), denounced Bolton as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who directed an abusive tirade at analyst Christian P. Westermann (search) for questioning whether Cuba was developing biological and chemical weapons.
But the pivotal Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (search) of Rhode Island, said he was "still inclined" to vote to confirm Bolton, who is now undersecretary of state for arms control.
The Constitution gives Bush considerable leeway to name ambassadors and "I see the bar as very high" for rejecting his choices, Chafee told reporters after the hearing was adjourned.
Ford was the only witness called besides Bolton, who testified for more than seven hours Monday, although Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told a reporter a "whole slew" of U.S. officials could have echoed Ford's accusations of harassment.
With Republicans in the majority, Bolton's nomination could be approved by the committee Thursday or early next week. Bolton was probably more vulnerable in the committee because Republicans outnumber Democrats there only 10-8. They have a safer margin, 55 to 44 with one independent, in the full Senate.
Democrats said Bolton's mistreatment of lower-level officials who would not bend to his hard-line views was underscored by Ford, who appeared voluntarily as a witness to support the accusations of harassment.
Praised by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., for "standing up," Ford said that while he is a Republican conservative and a devout admirer of Vice President Dick Cheney, he "feels like a target" for challenging a senior Republican.
"I have never seen anyone quite like Mr. Bolton," Ford testified under oath. "He abuses his authority with little people."
Contradicting Bolton's assertion Monday that he never tried to have officials who disagreed with him discharged, Ford said Bolton tried to have Westermann fired. "I had my own confrontations with Bolton," Ford said, but added that abusing an official on a much lower level was a different matter.
Reflecting on the testimony, Dodd said in an interview, "If this isn't enough I don't know what you can do" to derail the Bolton nomination. But he said he had not been told that any Republican would oppose confirmation.
The chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the "paramount issue" was giving President Bush the nominee he wants to undertake reform at the United Nations (search). "Bluntness may not be very good diplomacy, but on occasion it may be required," Lugar said as the hearing drew to a close.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who led the fight to block the nomination, responded angrily to Ford's accusation of mistreatment. Anytime a senior official abuses a lower-level one, he said, "that's just not acceptable."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said it was not an isolated incident, since Bolton had harassed at least three officials who disagreed with the extent of threats he thought Cuba and other countries posed.
Calling Bolton a "bully," Boxer said, "I think Mr. Bolton needs anger management at a minimum and he does not deserve to be promoted" to the U.N. post.