WEBSTER HUBBELL has long been a target of conservative critics of the Clinton administration suspicious that he was a conduit for Hillary Rodham Clinton's influence at the Justice Department.
But at least one well-placed former official says that Mr. Hubbell is one of the most competent and professional administrators in the senior ranks at Justice.
Hubbell resigned from his post as associate attorney general Mar. 13 over a controversy that has its roots in the same failed Arkansas savings and loan that is vexing the Clintons in the Whitewater affair.
The Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., a firm where he and Mrs. Clinton were partners before following Bill Clinton to Washington, has been investigating Hubbell for the possible overbilling of clients in the 1980s.
In spite of management problems at Justice that led to the resignation earlier this year of Philip Heymann as deputy attorney general, Hubbell never generated any apparent friction with his colleagues at Justice. He was also the strongest White House connection to a Justice Department where Attorney General Janet Reno is highly independent and not always on the White House wavelength.
Hubbell has no known direct connection to the Whitewater controversy that has the Clintons by the heels. But Hubbell was the supervising attorney on the Rose firm's account representing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation against Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, the failed thrift owned by the Clintons' business partners in the Whitewater land deal.
The Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency that has succeeded the FDIC in cleaning up failed thrifts, began an investigation last week of all the Rose firm's billings on thrift contracts. An Associated Press report cites a federal official who claims that Rose billed the FDIC three times for the same work on one part of the Madison case.