May 04, 2005,
When Melody Townsel, the Texas woman who claims that U.N.-ambassador nominee John Bolton chased her through a Moscow hotel, throwing things at her and "behaving like a madman," first tried to tell her story to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee showed no interest. It was only after she turned to the influential far-Left website DailyKos that Democrats on the committee realized Townsel might be a powerful weapon in their campaign to defeat the Bolton nomination.
The story began on Friday, April 8, when Townsel e-mailed her story to the committee. In an interview last night with National Review Online, she explained that she sent the letter, which described an alleged incident that occurred when she was working for an Agency for International Development subcontractor in Kyrgyzstan, to the committee's general e-mail address, and not to any particular senator. It was an explosive story. Bolton, she wrote,
proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman. For nearly two weeks, while I awaited fresh direction from my company and from US AID, John Bolton hounded me in such an appalling way that I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton, of course, then routinely visited me there to pound on the door and shout threats.
One might have expected Democrats on the committee to take immediate notice. But days passed including April 12, the day of Bolton's confirmation hearing and Townsel heard nothing from the committee. "I got two form e-mails, one from [Democratic Sen. Joseph] Biden and one from someone I don't remember," Townsel says. "They said thank you very much for your comments."
A few more days passed, and then a week, and Townsel still heard nothing from the committee. Then, on Friday, April 15, with the committee's scheduled vote on Bolton just four days away, a friend of Townsel's, to whom she had told the story, asked if she could post Townsel's letter on DailyKos. The friend, who went by the name amyindallas, posted the letter with the comment that "[Townsel] described the incident in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members (who have thus far responded with a yawn), and I wanted to share it with a larger audience."
It worked. "Within a few hours, I started getting phone calls," Townsel told NRO, "one from the Senate and then the Senate again, both Democratic staffers." Democrats who had heretofore shown no interest in Townsel's story were suddenly very, very interested.
That evening, Townsel got a call from the liberal radio network Air America, and she soon found herself on the air. "I make no secret of the fact that I am an extremely liberal and vocal Democrat," Townsel, who was a member of the group Mothers Opposing Bush, said on Air America. But she claimed that her partisanship did not play a factor in her decision to speak out. Bolton, she said, had been "not just very difficult to deal with but abusive and confrontational and ended up sort of chucking some things in a meeting and pounding on hotel doors and trotting across hotel lobbies to get to me, and it was uncomfortable and kind of creepy." (A number of people involved in the matter, including Townsel's then-boss, have cast doubt on key parts of her story.)
By the next day, Saturday, April 16, Democrats sent Townsel's letter out to dozens of reporters. By Sunday morning, her story was in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Biden, whose office had blown Townsel off just a few days before, announced on Fox News Sunday that, "A former AID worker in Kyrgyzstan wrote an open letter to the committee...saying that she'd essentially been harassed by John Bolton...For me, that's an issue."
On Monday, April 18, the day before the scheduled (and later postponed) committee vote on Bolton, Townsel's friend, amyindallas, posted another message on DailyKos. "I want to thank everybody on Kos," she said, "for creating such a buzz about her letter that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had no choice but to at least hear her out." By Tuesday, Townsel's hometown paper, the Dallas Morning News, ran a story headlined, "Bolton Foes Hope E-Mail Alleging Abuse Sways UN Ambassador Vote."
And indeed, it appears that it did. At the April 19 committee meeting to vote on Bolton, Biden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, read at length from Townsel's letter. Later in the session, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich stunned his fellow Republicans by announcing that "I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton." The vote was postponed for three weeks.
Townsel, meanwhile, says she is surprised by the turn of events, saying she "didn't feel like we would get any response." But she did, and all because a liberal blog, like conservative websites in earlier controversies involving Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and others, played a key role in another high-profile fight.
Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of the new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.