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Arkansas Ties a Drawback for Nominees : White House: Officials are looking for candidates to replace Hubbell at the Justice Department but want to avoid the appearance of cronyism.


WASHINGTON — One day after Associate Atty. Gen. Webster Hubbell's surprise resignation, Administration officials Tuesday began searching for a replacement who lacks a certain credential that a year ago might have won the job: home-state ties to the President and First Lady.

Amid Hubbell's departure on ethics accusations and the uproar over the Whitewater affair, Administration officials virtually ruled out candidates who might reinforce accusations that the Clintons had sought to run Washington with a core of Arkansas friends.

"It goes without saying that anything that smells of cronyism is out of the question," one Justice Department source said.

As the search began, it was also clear that the choice for the department's No. 3 post would have special significance. The back-to-back resignations of Hubbell and Bernard Nussbaum, the White House counsel, amid allegations of ethics violations have made it imperative that the replacement underscore the Administration's commitment to choosing officials of unquestioned integrity.

The choice is also significant because of the unusually important political role the Justice Department has played in an Administration that has sought to appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans on such issues as crime, civil rights, immigration and environmental protection.

In addition, Reno's top lieutenants must be prepared to take on extra managerial duties because Reno, an unusually high-profile attorney general, is so often out of town. "This is a delicate job in a crucial agency," one Administration official said.

The Administration cannot waste time on the choice. The Justice Department has been hobbled since the beginning of Clinton's presidency by a lack of top-level appointees. Only now is it getting in place its deputy attorney general and its assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Reno will "want to fill it promptly so the department is not criticized for failing to fill yet another key post," one Justice official said.

Hubbell, with close personal and professional ties to the Clintons, announced Monday that he would leave because a fight with former law firm partners over disputed billing practices was distracting him from his job.

While the search for his replacement is still in its earliest stages, Administration officials said they expect the candidates to include some within Justice. Among the insiders, officials said, would be Jo Ann Harris, the former New York attorney and professor who heads the department's criminal division, and Charles F. C. Ruff, who has held positions as a Watergate prosecutor, U.S. attorney and senior Justice Department official.

The appointment now may be less crucial in assuring that the often more moderate White House viewpoint is heard when the outspoken attorney general strays from the Administration text. White House officials believe that they have managerial skill and political acumen with the appointment of Ronald A. Klain, a former White House lawyer who last month become counselor to Reno.

Harris, 60, was in private practice in New York City and a law professor at Pace University School of Law before she was nominated last September to head the criminal division. She was a journalist for 14 years, then worked at the Justice Department from 1974 to 1983.

Ruff, 54, worked for the Justice Department in a series of posts from 1973 to 1982, including acting deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He went into private practice in 1982 in Washington.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) on Tuesday became the first Democrat to call for congressional hearings on Whitewater, saying public exposure of "all the facts" is probably the only way now that the White House can clear up the perception that "it may be holding back information."

Times staff writers Michael Ross in Washington and David Lauter in Nashua, N.H., contributed to this story.

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