WASHINGTON — Two weeks after a longtime aide turned down his offer to be White House counsel, President Clinton has turned to another veteran of the White House to take the top job.
Beth Nolan, a 47-year-old law professor who holds a senior post at the Justice Department, will next month become the sixth person to be White House counsel during the Clinton administration. She will also be the first woman to have the job in any administration.
Clinton initially offered the job to Cheryl Mills, who would have been the first woman and the first African American. But Mills, to the puzzlement of some colleagues, passed on the chance to have that historic distinction, saying she was tired after nearly seven years at the White House and ready to move to the private sector.
Mills agreed to serve as acting counsel after the departure earlier this month of Charles F.C. Ruff. But Clinton and White House Chief of Staff John Podesta moved quickly to find a permanent successor.
Nolan served in the White House counsel's office as an ethics advisor during the first term, then moved on to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Clinton nominated her in 1997 to be the assistant attorney general in charge of that office, but the Senate has never acted on the nomination. Her new job does not require Senate confirmation.
Before and between stints in the Clinton administration, Nolan spent more than a decade on the faculty at George Washington University Law School. She taught courses in constitutional law, legal and government ethics and governmental law.
Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Nolan's background makes her "perfectly suited" for her new job.
The White House counsel is typically a low-profile position, but it has grown into a more visible job under Clinton. Ruff, a former Watergate prosecutor, was part of the team that led Clinton's successful defense during his impeachment trial last winter.
In a statement, Clinton praised Nolan.
"She has a distinguished record of public service both in the White House and at the Department of Justice," he said. "While Chuck Ruff is a tough act to follow, I know of no one better than Beth to succeed him. I look forward to having her back."