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Committee Grills AG-Designate About Illegal Hiring of Aliens

By Lyle Denniston
The Baltimore Sun

Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird, visibly shaken at times by aggressive questions at her Senate confirmation hearing, portrayed herself Tuesday as "repentant" and fully aware that she broke the law by hiring illegal aliens as a baby-sitter and a driver.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, having received a flood of negative complaints from their constituents about Baird, turned an expected celebration of her nomination as the first woman ever chosen to head the Department of Justice into a day of implied accusation over the illegal aliens.

The senators focused mainly on the immigration law violation in hiring the aliens when they had no legal papers, leading to a $2,900 fine. A few committee members, however, also mentioned the failure to pay employment taxes for the aliens until Baird was in line for a high post in the Clinton administration.

Senators, Baird's advisers in the new Clinton administration and private lobbyists appeared to agree late in the day that her nomination had not been put in serious jeopardy but that getting final Senate approval may take longer and be more labored than had been expected.

Only a few of the day's questions tested her views on major legal and constitutional issues, as senators returned repeatedly to the hiring of a Peruvian couple in 1990 to take care of the infant son of Baird and her husband, Yale law professor Paul Gewirtz.

In a strange turnabout, the Democratic nominee seemed to be struggling at times to hold the expected unanimous support of the Democrats on the panel yet gaining some of the most enthusiastic endorsements from some committee Republicans.

As the first day of hearings developed before a three-deep standing-room-only crowd in one of the Senate's largest hearing rooms, the atmosphere grew increasingly tense, and staff aides watching Baird from the podium said they saw occasional signs that she was becoming emotionally upset.

Baird is to return for a new round of questioning Thursday, but plans by Biden to finish the hearings in one more day were in some doubt Tuesday night. At least two members of the committee have suggested that Baird's husband be summoned as a witness. Moreover, the number of questions awaiting Baird from the panel appeared to be lengthening as Tuesday's session moved along.