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Kimba Wood Emerges as No. 1 Attorney General Candidate

By Ronald J. Ostrow
and David Lauter

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

Federal Judge Kimba M. Wood emerged Thursday as President Clinton's top choice for attorney general, with one government source saying she has been "offered" the opportunity of becoming the first woman to hold that post.

Other sources agreed that she is Clinton's first choice, though they said she has not been offered the job. They noted that an FBI background investigation has not begun.

A thorough appraisal of Wood's background is thought to be especially important because Clinton's original choice for the job, Zo Baird, withdrew her nomination under fire for having hired illegal aliens for child care and household help.

Asked Thursday if he was close to naming Wood, Clinton said simply, "Tune in."

White House officials said no announcement was expected Friday, but added that widespread speculation about Wood's selection could lead Clinton to move faster than he had originally planned.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that Clinton had narrowed his list of attorney general prospects to three: Wood, 49, a registered Democrat that then-President Reagan appointed to U.S. District Court in New York in 1988; Charles F.C. Ruff, a veteran Washington criminal prosecutor and defense attorney; and former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, an early Clinton backer and friend from the days when both were governors.

Wood "has bubbled to the top of the list" since her meeting with Clinton last Friday, said a source close to the president. "She's a judge, a woman, a person close to the president's age," the source said. "All of those things help." In addition, the source added, "she doesn't appear to bring any obvious controversy to the job, which everyone wants to avoid."

So far, the only opposition that has surfaced to Wood has come from liberals who have raised questions about statements she made when nominated by Reagan. Wood questioned the validity of "judicial activism," repeating language used by many other Reagan-era appointees that have become suspect code words in the eyes of some liberal activists.

But the fact that Wood has the backing of some prominent, politically liberal friends of Clinton, including New York attorney and political activist Susan Thomases, may reduce the ability of liberal groups to oppose her. Moreover, having just gone through a week of attack by conservatives over the issue of gays in the military, Clinton might gain some political benefit by naming an attorney general that liberal activists disapprove of.

Appointing Wood would likely appease women's groups, who contend that Clinton has too few women in his Cabinet.

Wood, a Harvard Law School graduate, captured national attention, while generating controversy, in sentencing former junk bond king Michael Milken in 1990.

She initially sentenced him to 10 years in prison, by far the harshest sentence imposed in a chain of Wall Street scandals during the late 1980s. She declared the stiff sentence would make an example of Milken, who had pleaded guilty to six felony securities law violations.