WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a vote Thursday on judicial nominee William H. Pryor after examining Democratic complaints that he might have misled the panel about his campaign fund-raising.
Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, dismissed the charges as a "tempest in a teapot," saying he was satisfied that Pryor, Alabama's attorney general, had done nothing wrong.
But under pressure from Democrats, Hatch postponed the vote and directed committee staff to keep looking into the matter and again contact Pryor, as well as a former employee who provided fund-raising documents to Democrats two weeks ago.
Hatch initially rescheduled the committee vote for late Thursday after a Democratic stalling tactic. But he later pushed it back until Wednesday, saying one committee member had to leave for family reasons.
Democrats have pounced on the documents as new ammunition against Pryor, an abortion opponent whom they have denounced as part of President Bush's attempt to pack the federal courts with right-wing ideologues.
The new controversy stems from Pryor's work with the Republican Attorneys General Assn., a group he formed in 1999 that raises campaign contributions.
During his confirmation hearing last month, Pryor testified that he did not know whether any tobacco companies or selected firms were association members.
But Democrats said recently obtained association documents indicated otherwise.
Some Republicans charged that the documents appeared to have been stolen as part of a smear campaign. Democrats said they were lawfully provided by a whistle-blower.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, defended Pryor, noting: "Elected officials can and do raise money.... It's perfectly legal."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the issue was not so much Pryor's fund-raising, but "whether he answered accurately and fully and truthfully" about it.
Hatch said he expects the committee to ultimately approve Bush's nomination of Pryor to the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.