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Senate panel postpones vote on U.N. nominee amid new allegations

WASHINGTON—President Bush's choice for United Nations ambassador received a serious setback Tuesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to delay a vote on his nomination to investigate fresh allegations of improper conduct.

The decision came after Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, shocked his fellow Republicans by saying he wanted more time to study the charges against John Bolton, the State Department's top arms-control official.

"I've heard enough today to give me some real concern," Voinovich said. "I don't feel comfortable voting today."

The nomination would have been blocked from reaching the full Senate by a 9-9 vote if Voinovich had joined the Democrats in opposing Bolton. All 10 Republicans on the committee had been expected to vote for Bolton, an outspoken critic of the United Nations and a past proponent of go-it-alone U.S. foreign policy.

Voinovich's unexpected objection took the wind out of a forceful effort by the chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to overrule Democrats' demands for more time and hold a vote.

It also provided Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., with an opening in which to state his own reservations about a quick vote.

Lugar then agreed to put off the vote until after the Senate returns from a recess next month in return for the Democrats' promise to abide by the date he sets. Until then, Republican and Democratic committee staff members are working together to examine new allegations.

In arguing for a delay, the Democrats said they had received new allegations of improper behavior by Bolton since a hearing last week in which a former senior State Department official said Bolton asked him to fire an intelligence analyst who disputed his views on Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.

The Democrats also established that Bolton sought to have an analyst on the National Intelligence Council, an advisory group to the CIA director, replaced for the same reasons. Bolton didn't dispute the allegation.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said his staff had learned of at least two other episodes in which Bolton had sought to penalize junior bureaucrats.

A former contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development also has come forward with charges that Bolton had harassed her and spread falsehoods about her while he worked as a lawyer for a private firm, Biden said.

Biden read a letter from the woman, who wrote, "Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel, throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and genuinely behaving like a madman. I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton then routinely visited me to pound on the door and shout threats."

Biden also questioned Bolton's credibility, saying his versions of the episodes involving the intelligence analysts differed considerably from the versions given by the analysts and their superiors.

The dispute over Bolton comes as the Senate appears to be moving closer to a showdown over Bush's judicial nominees. Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee on Tuesday once again threatened to strip Democrats of their ability to indefinitely delay votes on candidates for federal judgeships.

But the delayed vote on Bolton served as a cautionary reminder for Republicans that Democrats still have the means to exert their will and that GOP control of the Senate doesn't mean automatic victory.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada urged Senate Democrats during their private Tuesday luncheon not to fear using tactics such as the filibuster against Bolton. A filibuster is extended debate that requires a supermajority of 60 votes to end.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent James Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BOLTON

ARCHIVE GRAPHIC on KRT Direct (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050307 BOLTON bio

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