Clinton Asks Reno to Stay as Attorney General
By Peter Baker and John F. Harris
President Clinton, breaking a cryptic silence, summoned Attorney General Janet Reno to the White House last night to ask her to stay in his second term, and he appeared close to naming a pair of political allies to two other Cabinet posts, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.
Just as he snatched Reno from the political limbo he had left her in, Clinton neared final decisions to install William Daley, a prominent Democratic figure and brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, as the next commerce secretary and Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, officials said last night.
The president is expected to announce his selections at a news conference at 2 p.m. today, officials said, but the process has been fluid and aides cautioned that decisions will not be final until they are made public. Both Daley and Richardson had been under consideration for other jobs, and Clinton has been known to change his mind at the last minute, sometimes after the press release has been written and news conference scheduled.
Even so, the transition picture seemed to clear significantly as the president moved to assemble the rest of his second-term government by his Christmas goal. Other announcements are possible today, including a restructured senior White House staff.
But Clinton's hopes of unveiling his economic team all at once seemed to dwindle as several key jobs remained in flux. Front-runners emerged to take over the National Economic Council, the Council of Economic Advisers and Domestic Policy Council, but officials said it was unlikely that final choices would be made in time for today's news conference.
Clinton waited more than five weeks after his reelection to guarantee Reno's job security, a drawn-out ordeal many in Washington interpreted as a sign of his unhappiness with her decisions to seek four independent counsel investigations into his administration during her tenure.
The delay came at a particularly delicate time politically for both Clinton and Reno. While she waited to hear of her fate, the independent-minded attorney general turned down three other requests seeking special prosecutors to look at Democratic campaign fund-raising practices. But administration sources attributed the delay not to presidential pique but to Clinton's reluctance to talk about Reno's future during her deliberations out of concern he might appear to be exerting undue influence.
Any desire Clinton may have harbored to dump her, aides said, was outweighed by the obvious political backlash. If Clinton were to shove her out, advisers feared, it would be seen as retaliation and an effort to replace her with a crony who would be in a position to protect him from further probes.
Clinton and Reno appeared together yesterday during a midday meeting on anti-drug efforts and while they seemed in convivial moods, they kept mum on their impending job discussion.
Reno, who said last month that she wanted to remain as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, was invited to return to the White House last night for a private session in which aides said the president intended to tell her that he too wanted her to remain.
The two met for about 30 minutes in the Oval Office for what was described as "a wonderful conversation." But officials said they could not report what was said or the meeting's outcome.
Daley, 48, who practices law in Chicago, has appeared to be a lock for a Cabinet secretariat for weeks, with the only question being which one. Passed over for transportation secretary when Clinton first entered the presidency, Daley was considered again for that post this time. Instead, Clinton was leaning last night toward having Daley replace outgoing Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, sources said. Daley led Clinton's successful campaign to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Richardson, 49, a 14-year lawmaker, likewise has been penciled in at different offices in recent weeks, seemingly a sure bet for a high position somewhere. At various times, he was in contention for commerce or energy secretary. But Richardson has made a name for himself lately as a freelance diplomat helping to rescue Americans held captive in hostile countries such as Iraq and North Korea. That made him a natural choice to succeed Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine K. Albright, who has been tapped as the next secretary of state.
With diversity always a concern for Clinton, the choice of Richardson, whose heritage is Hispanic, would help assuage Latino groups that had worried about being shut out of the new Cabinet. The selection of Daley for commerce also would seem to make Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater, who is black, the front-runner to head the Transportation Department.
While the announcement is not ready, the candidates for top economic jobs seemed to be firming up. Clinton aide Gene Sperling may emerge from an internal battle to take over the National Economic Council, the agency created by Clinton to coordinate economic policy. Princeton University economist Alan S. Blinder met with Clinton yesterday to talk about heading up the Council of Economic Advisers. Another presidential aide, Bruce Reed, seems likely to head the Domestic Policy Council.
The question marks still appear to be at the Labor Department, where front-runner Alexis M. Herman, now chief White House public liaison, may be stalled by a barrage from organized labor leaders who prefer former senator Harris Wofford (D-Pa.), now head of AmeriCorps. Sources said Rep. Esteban Edward Torres (D-Calif.) could emerge as a compromise candidate for labor, but it may take a while to complete a preliminary background check.
Elizabeth Moler, now head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and seen as the leading contender for energy secretary, may have slipped a bit, with Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, said to be on the rise. Tien was not hurt by a letter of support sent to Clinton from 14 House Democrats in the California delegation.
Seattle Mayor Norman B. Rice, a leading candidate to head the Housing and Urban Development Department, visited Washington on other business this week but was not contacted by White House officials, his aides said.
Staff writers Clay Chandler and Al Kamen contributed to this report.
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