Powell Playing Quiet Role in Bolton Battle
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Powell Playing Quiet Role in Bolton Battle

Washington Post | April 22, 2005
By Jim VandeHei and Robin Wright

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell is emerging as a behind-the-scenes player in the battle over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations, privately telling at least two key Republican lawmakers that Bolton is a smart but very problematic government official, according to Republican sources.

Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

"General Powell has returned calls from senators who wanted to discuss specific questions that have been raised," said Margaret Cifrino, a Powell spokeswoman. "He has not reached out to senators," and considers the discussions private.

A spokesman for Chafee confirmed that at least two conversations took place. Bolton served under Powell as his undersecretary of state for arms control, and the two were known to have serious clashes.

Powell's tenure as secretary of state was often marked by friction with the White House on a range of foreign policy issues, disagreements that both sides worked to keep from surfacing. It is not Powell's style to weigh in strongly against a former colleague, but rather to direct people to what he sees as flaws and potential problems, former associates say. Powell's views are highly influential with many Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Those who know Powell best said two recent events provide insight into his thinking. Powell did not sign a letter from seven other former U.S. secretaries of state or defense supporting Bolton, and his former chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, recently told the New York Times that Bolton would be an "abysmal ambassador."

"On two occasions, he has let it be known that the Bolton nomination is a bad one, to put it mildly," a Democratic congressional aide said. "It would be great to have Powell on the record speaking for himself, but he's unlikely to do it."

With a final committee vote delayed until next month, Chafee is studying Bolton's record and withholding judgment, his spokesman said. Chafee told reporters Wednesday he is "much less likely" to support Bolton because of questions about his credibility.

President Bush yesterday accused Democrats of blocking Bolton's nomination for political reasons, as the White House intensified its campaign to confirm Bolton and discredit his critics.

"John's distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment," Bush said in a speech to insurance agents. "I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations."

Yet it was Sen. George V. Voinovich (news, bio, voting record) (R-Ohio) who prevented a final vote in the Foreign Relations Committee this week and called for more time to study Bolton's past. "The senator's motives are to do what is best for the American people," said Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich's spokeswoman.

Chafee and Hagel share Voinovich's concerns. Powell called Hagel, asking the Nebraska Republican if he should return Chafee's call. Hagel said that he should and that he should be frank, the sources said.

"I think it's being held up because Democrats oppose John Bolton, oppose him with passion," said Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), when asked whether politics were to blame for the delay.

Bush entered the increasingly tense showdown over Bolton's nomination as both sides are digging in for a tough fight over the confirmation of the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Democrats are charging that Bolton is a bully with a history of berating people he works with and of seeking to remove those who disagree with him. The White House is accusing Democrats of using "trumped-up" charges to prevent a highly qualified Republican from shaking up the United Nations. The committee yesterday failed to agree on whether Bolton should be called back to answer more questions.

Bolton has been accused of mistreating subordinates, including threatening a female former government contractor and misleading members about the handling of classified materials. Initially, Democrats opposed Bolton because of his negative comments about the United Nations. Their attack now centers on his character and temperament. "I do not believe that's a convincing case," Lugar said.

Former State Department official Carl W. Ford Jr. told the committee last week that in 2002 Bolton sought to remove two intelligence analysts who refused to endorse a speech he was preparing on Cuba's weapons capability.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden (news, bio, voting record) Jr. (Del.), ranking Democrat on the committee, last week released a letter from Melody Townsel, a former subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kyrgyzstan, charging that Bolton harassed her over work-related matters more than a decade ago. Since then, at least two people have denied Townsel's charges.

Democratic committee sources said Biden and others are opening new lines of inquiry, including looking into a report posted yesterday on Newsweek's Web site that Bolton twice clashed angrily with Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Hubbard, who was appointed by Bush, has discussed his concerns about Bolton's credibility with committee members. Hubbard also challenged Bolton's testimony to the committee that he had praised Bolton for a 2003 speech denouncing Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, as a "tyrannical dictator."

White House officials are moving quickly to address concerns among Republicans. Matthew R. Kirk, the president's liaison to the Senate, grabbed Voinovich shortly after this week's hearing to tell him the White House stands ready to provide him any information he wants, GOP sources said.

"John Bolton is someone who has a long record of getting things done, and sometimes that's going to make people mad," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The White House also helped organize Republicans to speak out in favor of Bolton yesterday. Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) (R-Ariz.) said on the Senate floor that Bolton's temper should not disqualify him. "I believe John Bolton could provide the medicine the United Nations needs," he said.

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