Details on sitter pit White House against judge Wood reportedly disclosed all over week ago

February 07, 1993|By Robert D. McFadden | Robert D. McFadden,New York Times News Service

The White House and people close to U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood gave contradictory accounts yesterday on the extent and timing of the information she supplied the Clinton administration about her hiring of an illegal alien, the issue that forced her withdrawal from consideration as attorney general.

One person familiar with the judge's version of the events and her dealings with the White House said yesterday that she had given the White House full details of her employment of an illegal immigrant as her baby sitter, first orally more than a week ago and later in documents and records that she said made it clear that she had done nothing illegal.

Judge Wood, according to this person, did not mislead the White House but was rejected out of fear over the reaction on Capitol Hill and of ridicule on radio and television talk shows, and out of concern that Americans would not be able to understand the distinctions between Judge Wood's case and that of former nominee Zoe Baird, who admitted she had violated laws when she employed two illegal aliens as household help and didn't pay the necessary taxes.

Yesterday, White House officials said they hoped to announce a new nominee quickly, possibly in the next two days. They said President Clinton was no longer insisting on finding a woman for the job.

The candidates mentioned by White House officials yesterdaincluded former Gov. Gov. Gerald L. Baliles of Virginia; Judge Patricia M. Wald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Drew S. Days III, a law professor at Yale University; Judge Diana Murphy of federal court in Minneapolis; and Jamie S. Gorelick, president of the District of Columbia Bar Association.

Charles F. C. Ruff, a Washington lawyer who had been viewed at one time as a strong alternative, has been ruled out, officials said, because of questions involving his hiring of a maid.

Mr. Ruff confirmed in an interview yesterday that he had employed a woman once a week but had not paid her Social Security taxes.

The account by the person close to Judge Wood contradicted a statement Friday by George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director, who said Mr. Clinton's advisers had not discovered the problem until the judge gave them financial records late in the week.

Mr. Stephanopoulos, in response to questions about this yesterday, denied that Judge Wood had given the White House details about her employment of the alien a week ago.

"When counsel questioned Judge Wood about this matter prior to her interview with the president, there was no discussion of any details," he said. "She was asked if she had a problem related to illegal aliens, and she said no."

But the person familiar with Judge Wood's role said that in interviews with President Clinton on Jan. 29, and with his chief counsel, Bernard W. Nussbaum, by telephone on Jan. 28, when she was vacationing in Colorado, and at the White House on Jan. 29, she was asked, in almost identical phrases, if she had "a Zoe Baird problem."

On each occasion, she responded by explaining the employment of the baby sitter in detail and indicated that she had done nothing illegal, saying she had paid all the necessary taxes for the baby sitter and had notified the Immigration and Naturalization Service that the woman in her employ had an expired visa.

In addition to details given in these interviews, Judge Wood shipped six boxes of income tax records and other documents relating to the baby sitter and other matters to the White House Wednesday, providing full documentary evidence of the matters she had cited verbally, the person familiar with her role said.

The records, this person said, were in the hands of the White House aides Thursday morning, 10 to 12 hours before the administration let it be known that the president had chosen Judge Wood but would not announce her selection until finishing background checks.

The White House suggested at the time that the selection process was moving with extreme caution, but it appeared at least in part to be putting out the judge's name to test public reaction.

No more information was provided, and there were no further consultations with Judge Wood. The only consultations were among the president and his advisers, who concluded that the political cost of fighting for the nomination would be greater than the embarrassment of dropping it, the person familiar with the judge's role said.

On Friday, Judge Wood was told by Mr. Nussbaum that even though the White House knew she had done nothing illegal, she would have to withdraw because Mr. Clinton and his top aides "were skittish about Capitol Hill and worried that the talk shows would have a field day," the person familiar with the events said.

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