WASHINGTON - Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned yesterday that they might not be prepared to vote on John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations on May 12, as they had agreed to do.
In a letter sent yesterday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for more documents, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, wrote that when he agreed to the date he believed the administration would make witnesses and documents available before then.
He wrote that he would consider it "a lack of cooperation" if documents were not handed over "in a timely manner."
Biden sent his letter one day before the committee's self-imposed deadline to finish its additional investigation of Bolton's background.
Democrats have alleged that Bolton, the undersecretary for arms control and international security, exaggerated intelligence findings on Cuba's and Syria's military ambitions and bullied underlings and intelligence analysts who disagreed with him.
President Bush and Senate Republicans have staunchly defended Bolton as a strong-minded diplomat who would help reform the United Nations. Senate Republicans have vowed to quickly bring his nomination to the Senate floor.
Democrats won a victory last month on the Foreign Relations Committee, which is made up of 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, when they persuaded Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, to join them in requesting more time to investigate allegations about Bolton's conduct. At least two other Republicans on the committee also have expressed reservations about Bolton.
The committee has interviewed or re-interviewed about 30 witnesses. Democrats sought to discredit Bolton and Republicans sought to rebut questions about his conduct.
The staffs are expected to prepare dueling summaries of those interviews, with Democrats arguing that they added more evidence of Bolton's high-handed ways, and Republicans saying they gave no information that should disqualify him.
Biden's letter came one day after Richard G. Lugar wrote his own letter to Rice, in which the Indiana Republican described some document requests made by Democrats as "extremely broad" and said they "may have marginal relevance to specific allegations."
Lugar eliminated from his list of requested documents four that Democrats had sought. Three were related to Democratic contentions that Bolton, as recently as summer 2003, had tried to stiffen the intelligence community's assessment of Syria's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
The fourth document was related to remarks Bolton made in 2001, in which he expressed U.S. concern about what he described as "the growing interest of Sudan in developing a biological weapons program."
Bolton's claim went further than the CIA's assertions to Congress at the time. The agency said Sudan "may be interested" in biological weapons.
Referring to Lugar's dismissive characterization of the documents left off his list, Biden cautioned Rice: "That is not my view." The documents, Biden said, "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."
Democrats say they believe their contention that Bolton had a pattern of seeking to bully the intelligence community into accepting his views on North Korea, Cuba, Syria and other nations is their strongest weapon in persuading one or more Republicans on the committee to take the unusual - and politically risky - step of bucking their president and voting against his nominee.
They have focused their efforts on providing evidence that might sway Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, or Voinovich.
Hagel has previously said that although he has reservations about Bolton, he was prepared to send the nomination to the full Senate and then vote against his nomination on the Senate floor.
Chafee has said that although he has reservations about Bolton, he was inclined to vote for him because he believed the president should be able to choose his nominees.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.