White House names counsel: President moves swiftly to defuse Whitewater scandal with appointment of Lloyd Cutler

PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday named Lloyd Cutler, a Washington lawyer of great political experience, to be his temporary chief legal adviser in the White House in place of Bernard Nussbaum, who was forced to resign at the weekend accused of interfering with federal agencies investigating the Clintons' business dealings in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Mr Cutler, 76, who held the job as White House counsel under President Carter, said that because of his age he had agreed to serve for only 130 working days, during which the White House would look for a permanent replacement. He said if a congressional committee wanted to question White House officials he would recommend they co-operate. 'Trust is the coin of the realm,' Mr Cutler told a news conference.

The speed of Mr Cutler's appointment underlines the pressure on the White House to defuse the Whitewater affair, which is crippling its effectiveness, by demonstrating that it has nothing to hide and is not impeding the investigation. As in previous crises Mr Clinton has once again turned to the inner circle of the Washington establishment to strengthen his administration. Last year he appointed David Gergen, former aide to President Reagan, as an adviser on dealing with the media.

The extent of the political damage to Mr Clinton from Whitewater was shown yesterday by an ABC News poll, which says that 36 per cent of Americans believe that the Clintons acted illegally in their dealings with the company. A larger number, 49 per cent, said that Whitewater was a serious matter. But the Republican political offensive over the affair does not seem to be going down well: 58 per cent of those polled said they thought the Republicans were simply trying to score political points.

The scandal over Whitewater revolves less around Mr Clinton's business dealings than accusations of conflicts of interest and obstruction of justice both before and after he entered the White House. Mr Nussbaum, who attended three meetings with Treasury officials during which they briefed him about confidential inquiries into the Clintons' connections with the failed Arkansas bank Madison Guaranty, was held to have interfered with federal investigations.

Mr Cutler said yesterday: 'I've done it before, as you know. You don't look forward to it. You're asked to do it and you have to do it.' Dee Dee Myers, the White House press spokeswoman, said Mr Cutler's standing 'would be reassurance to the press and public that this White House is adhering to the highest ethical standards'.

Ten senior White House officials have now been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury tomorrow.

Mr Cutler was White House counsel under President Carter in 1979-81, but also lawyer to the former Republican Secretary of State George Shultz during the Iran-Contra hearings. Last year he was a main supporter of Zoe Baird's nomination to be Attorney-General, which had to be dropped when it was revealed she had not made tax on payments to her domestic help.

Mr Cutler, once called 'the ultimate Washington lawyer', helped to deal with ethics allegations against several Carter aides during his earlier spell at the White House.

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