ENDING a hasty search for a lawyer with ``unquestioned integrity,'' President Clinton has selected former Carter White House counsel Lloyd Cutler to be his chief lawyer, a senior administration official says.
Mr. Cutler would succeed White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, the scrappy mentor to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton who resigned March 5, a victim of the Whitewater affair. Cutler, who has been called ``the ultimate Washington lawyer,'' helped President Carter manage ethics allegations against several White House aides.
Presidential counselor David Gergen appeared to stop just short of saying that President Clinton would announce the appointment on March 8, but Cutler said that he expected the announcement later the same day.
In a lectern-thumping defense, Clinton accused Republicans of whipping up hysteria to make Whitewater look like former President Nixon's Watergate scandal but said it is not and denied any wrongdoing by himself or his wife.
``There is no analogy [to Watergate] except any hysteria they can gin up about it,'' the Democratic president said.
``There will not be a coverup,'' Clinton said. ``There will not be an abuse of power in this office, and there is no credible charge that I violated any law.''
He thumped his lectern for emphasis in an emotional defense of his wife, who was a partner in a Little Rock law firm that handled some Whitewater matters.
``Her moral compass is as strong as anybody's in this country, and they will see that,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Whitewater special counsel Robert Fiske Jr. says congressional hearings on the subject ``would pose a severe risk'' to his investigation. Mr. Fiske said that premature testimony and disclosure of documents could cause witnesses to alter their future testimony and that any grant of congressional immunity would cause additional problems.
Fiske explained his concerns in a letter to the Senate and House banking committees. Chairmen of the committees quickly assured Fiske they would not undermine his inquiry.
House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia disagreed with Fiske's contention that congressional hearings would ``pose a severe risk'' to his investigation, and noted that it took six years for an independent counsel to investigate Iran-Contra. Breaux eyes top Senate post
JOHN BREAUX (D) of Louisiana became the first senator to publicly express interest in replacing the retiring United States Senate majority leader, George Mitchell (D) of Maine.
``I'm going to take a look at it,'' Senator Breaux, said on the NBC television program ``Today.'' ``But many of my colleagues who are well qualified will also be taking a look at it.''
Senator Mitchell, one of President Clinton's top allies in Congress, announced he would not seek reelection Nov. 8.