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No Hints on When Clinton Will Name Transition Team

By Al Kamen and Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post


President-elect Clinton Thursday talked with foreign leaders and met with his staff, but gave no hint of when he would begin naming a transition team.

Clinton has so far resisted entreaties by his advisers to quickly name a transition director, and a source said the fact that Clinton has decided to hold off for a few days may be an indication he is troubled by the complaints of some top campaign aides critical of Mickey Kantor, his campaign chairman, who until this week has been considered the most likely candidate for the job.

Kantor's prospective appointment ran into opposition, particularly among members of Clinton's campaign team who feel the apointment of the Los Angeles lawyer who has a number of major corporate clients would send the wrong symbolic signals about whether Clinton's presidency would mean a break from past practices.

The controversy over Kantor aside, advisers said Clinton saw no reason to accept arbitrary deadlines for his first appointments. "Everyone is respectfully standing back to give him some rest time and recovery time," one person said. "He wants to get his sea legs before making decisions. There is a real sense that though people are impatient and ready to go, these (decisions) will be sorted out over the next week or so."

Exhausted from the long campaign -- particularly the final, frantic three days of activity -- Clinton indicated to his advisers Wednesday and Thursday that he would not rush to fill the top jobs in his transition group until he had had time to rest.

"We're putting together the transition teams," Clinton said Thursday after meeting individually with senior campaign staffers. "I'm reading volumes of stuff on things that I need to decide on."

"He's going to make the decisions when he's ready to," said one person who talked with Clinton since the election. "It will be soon." Clinton has told friends he is determined to build a new government that reflects the voters' mood to shake up the status quo and wants an administration that does not appear like Democrats-in-exile returning to power in Washington.

Clinton Thursday returned congratulatory telephone calls from world leaders including Russian president Boris Yeltsin and black South African leader Nelson Mandela. He also spoke with British prime minister John Major, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Mexican President Carlos Salinas, Argentina's president Carlos Menem and Italian leader Giuliano Amato.

"They were all very brief look-forward-to-working-with-you conversations," Clinton said as he emerged briefly from his office at the statehouse here to meet with Arkansas legislators.

Clinton, joined by Vice President-elect Albert Gore Jr., met for two hours Wednesday with the six-member transition board, which includes former Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin, Washington lawyer and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, and ARKLA chairman Mack McLarty. The board urged him to move quickly to name a tansition head, a source said.

But, the source said, "The expectation that you get off an airplane with 36 hours without sleep, you get through election day and an election night celebration and you're supposed to have decided the future of the administration is ridiculous. I think this flurry of intense interest about what's the timetable and who's this and who's that is just grossly premature."

The choice of a transition chief is regarded as critical to ensuring prompt decision-making during the transition period. How and when Clinton resolves the issue will be seen as an indication of how he will govern.

The source said that one concern for Clinton as he reviews the situation is that, if he does not name Kantor, a long-time confidant, he needs to select someone whose stature would not make the choice seem like "a slap in the face to Mickey" -- for example, campaign chief of staff Eli Segal. Among those who meet that test are Christopher, Jordan, a former governor like South Carolina's Richard Riley and Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald Brown.