N.Y. Judge Kimba Wood said to be Clinton's top attorney general candidate

February 04, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton is close to a decision on a choice for attorney general, with the leading candidate being Federal District Court Judge Kimba M. Wood of New York City, according to an administration official.

Mr. Clinton, who hopes to make the final decision in the next day or two, is also said to be considering Charles F. C. Ruff, a Washington lawyer, and Gerald L. Baliles, a former governor of Virginia, the official said.

But Ms. Wood, the official said, is without a doubt the leading contender, having impressed both Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in separate interviews at the White House last weekend.

While the decision is likely to come this week, any announcement could be delayed until early next week, to give time for further background checks of the person selected, administration officials said. Mr. Clinton is particularly anxious to have the background of the nominee thoroughly checked out to prevent a repetition of the troubles that derailed Zoe Baird, his first choice, who withdrew after a furor over her hiring of illegal aliens as household workers.

Mr. Clinton also is eager to complete the selection of his Cabinet to ward off further talk about stumbles in his administration's early days.

Judge Wood is best known as the judge who sentenced financier Michael Milken. The 48-year-old judge, who describes herself as a moderate Democrat, was named to the bench in 1988 by then-President Reagan.

In the search that led to Ms. Baird's selection, Mr. Clinton had focused almost exclusively on women. After the choice was made, he pointed proudly his selection as being for the highest-ranking position ever for a woman.

Since Ms. Baird's withdrawal, both men and women have been considered for the position. Administration officials said they would prefer to name a woman, but put as a higher priority avoiding the kind of ethical problem found with Ms. Baird.

Mr. Ruff was mentioned recently as Mr. Clinton's choice for deputy attorney general, the No. 2 post in the Department. But an administration official said last night that he was not definitively out of the running for the attorney general's job.

Mr. Ruff is a former U.S. attorney and worked in the Justice Department in the 1970s. That background could deflect some criticism that had arisen earlier over Ms. Baird's lack of prosecutorial experience.

He is now a partner in the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling.

[The White House said earlier this week that those interviewed in the search also included Boston federal Judge Rya Zobel and Los Angeles lawyer Andrea Ordin. Also mentioned as a possibility was Minnesota federal Judge Diana Murphy, said the sources, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.]

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