WASHINGTON – If they agree on anything, backers and critics of John R. Bolton (search) seem to acknowledge that the embattled U.N. nominee can behave like a bull in a china shop. The question for moderate Republican senators with qualms about Bolton is whether his temperament or behavior should disqualify him as the Bush administration's ambassador to the United Nations (search).
The job itself, representing the United States among allies and opponents alike at the world body, has been overshadowed during weeks of debate about Bolton's rough-edged personality and allegations that he abused co-workers and his government position.
The White House is trying to turn attention back to the world body as a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation vote on Bolton's nomination looms next Thursday. President Bush himself has made a public show of support, and the White House has led a quiet lobbying campaign among wavering Republicans.
The crux of the White House case is that a vote against Bolton is a vote against badly needed institutional reforms at the United Nations, making the fight less a referendum on the nominee than on bloat and corruption at the world body.
"He brings a lot of passion and a lot of experience and sometimes a little bluntness to the position. But we believe those are the type of qualities that are needed to go about the important work of reforming the United Nations," White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said Thursday.
While Democrats on the committee largely agree that the United Nations needs a bureaucratic overhaul, they remain focused on the growing list of complaints and allegations about Bolton's behavior when angered and whether he tried to ram his hard-line views on sensitive topics such as Cuba policy down the throats of lower-level employees.
"The bulk of the stuff pouring over the transom — that he's a bully, that he has a dreadful temperament — that's not debatable," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (search), D-Conn.
Bolton has been a colorful and quotable critic of the world body for years. At his contentious nomination hearing last month, Democrats seized on Bolton's one-time remark that the disappearance of 10 stories of the U.N. building in New York would make no difference.
Democrats also began several inquiries at that hearing that have defined the nomination fight and led to an unusual decision by the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to postpone a scheduled vote on Bolton last month.
The allegations and inquiries fall into several categories: alleged mistreatment of subordinates or colleagues; instances when the hard-line conservative Bolton may have twisted intelligence to suit ideological ends; the possibility that he misled or lied to the committee; and his acknowledged pursuit of names and details about U.S. officials whose communications were picked up by the super-secret National Security Agency.
The most eye-catching allegations came from a Texas woman, Melody Townsel, who claimed that Bolton had became irrationally angry during a business dispute 11 years ago.
Townsel told the committee in a letter that Bolton threw things at her, chased her through the halls of a Moscow hotel and pounded on her door. She said he also spread false rumors about her among business associates.
"His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological," she wrote.
The committee staff later interviewed Townsel and checked her story. She substantially stood by it in interviews with Senate investigators. The Associated Press obtained a transcript of the interview Friday.
"I've never felt so hunted or so hounded," she told the committee.
Separately, Bolton acknowledged tangling with at least three government intelligence analysts since taking over as the State Department's top arms control official four years ago. In the cases of Christian Westermann, Fulton Armstrong and Rexon Ryu, Democrats allege that Bolton upbraided subordinates who disagreed with him and may have tried to get them fired or demoted.
Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin told the committee that Bolton tried to have Armstrong ousted after a dispute over Cuba, The New York Times reported Saturday. McLaughlin said it was "the only time I had ever heard of such a request," according to a transcript obtained by the Times.
In public testimony or private interviews conducted by committee staffers, at least one of those analysts, their supervisors or others have told conflicting stories about how far Bolton went.
Apart from Bolton's own testimony, the only other sworn public statement came from Carl W. Ford Jr., a former high-ranking State Department intelligence supervisor who told the committee last month that Bolton was a "serial abuser" of bureaucratic underlings.
Portions of Ford's testimony conflicted with Bolton's, but Democrats have focused on other areas that may show Bolton stretched the truth in oral or written testimony.
Separately, the new national intelligence chief, John Negroponte, is weighing whether to tell select senators details of Bolton's NSA requests. Bolton said he made such requests just a few times, but senators later said the figure was 10.