Clinton dilemma over top law post

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - In what could be the first embarrassment of his presidency, Bill Clinton's nominee for Attorney-General, the top US law enforcement officer, was fighting yesterday to save her future job in the face of mounting criticism over her employment of two illegal immigrants as domestic staff, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Testifying in her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Zoe Baird again apologised for having employed the Peruvian couple, and failing to pay the required Social Security Tax. But she insisted there was no need to withdraw her candidacy: 'That would not be appropriate; my overall record gives me the potential to be a great Attorney- General.'

Normally a majority of the Democrat-controlled panel would be ready to accept that argument, and Mr Clinton has let it be known he stands by his nominee. But at least one member has said she should not be confirmed, and by a 20-1 margin, calls from the public pouring into Senate offices this week believe Mrs Baird should step down.

Yesterday Barbara Jordan, an influential Democrat and keynote speaker at the Democratic convention in New York, added her voice to the chorus of opposition, urging the 41-year-old corporate lawyer to 'take the ethical high ground' and withdraw from contention.

If the complaints continue, Mr Clinton could find himself in a corner, facing the choice of either finding a new nominee - or sticking to Mrs Baird and risking the impression that both the tough Cabinet ethics regulations promulgated yesterday, and his promises of a government responsive to public feeling, were little more than shams.

Elsewhere though, as Mr Clinton staged an 'open house' meeting and greeting session at the White House for 2,500 members of the public, his administration was quickly taking shape. Separate Senate committees approved half a dozen other Cabinet nominees yesterday, and the President was said to be ready to take a first executive move to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military.

Simultaneously, he tightened his grip on the party by installing his campaign manager, the 36- year-old David Wilhelm, as the new Democratic Party chairman.