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Mood At White House Amid Turmoil: Anxious, Angry

November 13, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In shaking up his staff and Cabinet, President Clinton is rattling aides, allies and old friends. Henry Cisneros is agonizing. Janet Reno is dangling. Harold Ickes is outraged.

And the entire White House staff is on edge.

It is the nature of presidential transitions _ as Richard Nixon once said _ to ``shoot some sparks″ into a second-term team, even if it means burning a friendly face or two.

But Ickes, political troubleshooter and deputy chief of staff, was an unlikely victim: His friendship with the president dates to the 1970s; his ties to the Democratic Party’s liberal wing are unparalleled, and he ran the Clinton-Gore campaign from the White House.

He was dumped, unceremoniously and awkwardly, just three days after the election victory. Erskine Bowles made Ickes’ scalp his price for accepting the chief of staff job _ a post Ickes had wanted.

Bowles’ hiring was already public when Clinton, a man who hates confronting bad news, told Ickes about his misfortune. In a brief, tense Oval Office discussion, the president promised to help find Ickes another administrative post and asked him to head up his inaugural committee _ a poor consolation prize.

A fuming Ickes later told an associate that the ouster was ``unwarranted and undeserved.″ He could accept losing the chief of staff job, Ickes said, but not the ``callous treatment″ afterward.

Knowing his nomination would be fiercely opposed in the Republican Senate, Ickes has decided not to seek a Cabinet seat _ and his future in the second Clinton administration is in doubt.

The move shocked many White House aides, including some who do not favor what they consider Ickes’ bullying management style. ``If it can happen to him, what about me?″ said one mid-level aide, no fan of Ickes.

This transition period also has found Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros in a tough spot. Though the former San Antonio mayor is said to be a Clinton favorite, anonymous presidential aides made it clear _ even before the election _ that Cisneros was out.

The problem: A special prosecutor’s investigation into allegations that he lied to the FBI about payments to a former mistress.

Cisneros is said to be tortured over whether he should try to stay in the Cabinet or leave to earn more money to pay legal bills. At the White House, some aides suspect he is holding out so he can influence Clinton on his successor; Cisneros is said to back Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.

Reno, the popular attorney general, was the subject of a concerted campaign by some aides to nudge her out of office. Under the cloak of anonymity, they expressed concerns about Reno’s performance and health, suggesting that Clinton would welcome her resignation.

The problem is Clinton has not talked to Reno yet, and probably won’t until after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, Reno has publicly said she wants to stay _ making it difficult for Clinton to dump her even if he wanted.

A series of pre-election media leaks made it clear to Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary that her services were no longer needed. Still, she submitted her resignation only after meeting with Clinton Tuesday night.

Unsettling changes are possible in the foreign policy front, too.

Clinton is considering a move involving a trusted aide and an old pal. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake is said to be a candidate to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Strobe Talbott, one of Clinton’s oldest friends, would move from the State Department to take Lake’s job under that scenario.

The problem: Lake doesn’t like the idea, and is trying to persuade Clinton to stop thinking about it.

Meanwhile, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is left to consider press reports that he is the front-runner to replace Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Not so fast, aides say: Clinton has not quite decided how that job will shake out.

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