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Brown discloses he failed to pay taxes for worker Remarks fuel 'double standard' charges on Cabinet

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown disclosed yesterday that he failed to pay legally required Social Security taxes for a part-time domestic employee, fueling charges that an unfair double standard has been applied to male and female candidates for Clinton administration Cabinet posts.

Mr. Brown, a prominent attorney who reported earning $750,000 last year, said in response to a question on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he learned only last month that he was legally obligated to pay Social Security taxes for a woman who cleaned his house several hours a week. A long-standing law requires such payments for anyone who earns more than $50 in a quarter.

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The commerce secretary added that he was never asked about the matter by President Clinton or anyone during the nominating process.

Mr. Brown's disclosure, coming only days after U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood was forced to withdraw her name from consideration as attorney general, added to the embarrassing questions the administration faces as it searches for someone to head the Department of Justice.

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Judge Wood was widely reported to be Mr. Clinton's top choice for the job until it was made public that she had hired an illegal alien as a nanny. Unlike Mr. Brown's failure to pay Social Security taxes, what Judge Wood did was not against the law, because she hired the nanny in 1986, before the current immigration statute was passed. She also paid Social Security and other taxes on the employee's income.

The apparent paradox fueled more criticism of the administration.

"Ron Brown is just the first to confirm what we all knew, which is that questions were raised with women nominees to Cabinet positions that were not raised with men," Democratic political consultant Ann F. Lewis said. "In this role, as in others, women come under far stricter scrutiny and have to prove themselves in ways that men do not."

Added Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women: "Sounds like a double standard to me."

Ms. Ireland added that it is a "terrible irony" that two women in a row should be knocked out of contention for attorney general because of questions surrounding their arrangements for child care. Only two weeks ago, corporate lawyer Zoe Baird withdrew her name from consideration after admitting that she had broken the law, both in hiring an illegal alien couple as her baby sitter and chauffeur after the immigration law took effect and in failing to pay for Social Security and other employee benefits.

In a statement issued Friday, Judge Wood said that, while she had not broken any laws, it was impossible for her to keep her name in consideration in "the current political environment," a clear reference to the furor that had arisen over Ms. Baird's nomination.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Judge Wood insisted that she had offered the White House "full details of her seven-year employment of an illegal as her baby sitter, first orally more than a week ago and later in documents and records."

Later in the day, the White House released a letter from Judge Wood to the newspaper saying that she had not been asked for such details about her baby sitter, "and thus I did not 'explain' her employment 'in detail,' beyond assuring my questioners that I had fully complied with the laws and paid all required taxes."

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Judge Wood sought to "correct the impression conveyed" in the New York Times account, which was carried in The Sun yesterday. That article quoted a person close to Judge Wood as saying she had told White House officials in detail about the baby sitter more than a week ago, when she was first contacted about the Cabinet job.

After Judge Wood objected yesterday to the account, the person supported Judge Wood's statement. He said he had not meant to leave the impression that, as reported by the Times, she had actually given these details to the White House.

"To reiterate," Judge Wood concluded in yesterday's letter, "I did not mislead anyone at any point, and I have obeyed all laws."

Vice President Al Gore said that Mr. Clinton was not "comfortable" with what he considered to be her evasiveness on the question. Mr. Gore, appearing on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," said that he and Mr. Clinton did not dispute Judge Wood's contention that she had fully complied with immigration and tax laws. But Mr. Gore said that her responses on the question during interviews with the president, Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior White House officials did not give Mr. Clinton enough confidence in her to go forward with the nomination.

"The job of attorney general is not a privilege that anybody has until some crime is proven, thus taking it away," the vice president said. "There has to be a comfort level. And in the circumstances, the kind of give and take that took place didn't lead to that comfort level."

Judge Wood was asked repeatedly during interviews whether she had a "Zoe Baird problem."

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When Mr. Clinton learned that her Trinidadian baby sitter had in fact been in the country illegally for some years before Judge Wood hired her, he demanded that she withdraw from consideration.

"Her interpretation of the word 'problem' is probably where the dispute lies," Mr. Gore said. "A question of that kind in my opinion could best be answered by saying: 'No, no law was violated. However, here's something you should know.' "

The normally unflappable Mr. Gore was clearly made uneasy by questions on Judge Wood's case. He tried several times to change the subject to the "larger context" of the nation's child care problem.

Mr. Gore said that, based on what he knew of Mr. Brown's failure to pay Social Security taxes on his housekeeper, the secretary of commerce should not be disqualified from serving in the Cabinet. He added that all nominees, men and women, should be held to the same standards of ethics and compliance with the law.

Mr. Brown indicated that he did not know of his obligation until a political firestorm arose over Ms. Baird's nomination. "It happened in January, when this came to light, when most people found out that there was an obligation," he said. Mr. Brown did not say how much he had paid in back taxes and penalties.

Meanwhile, White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos said that the administration is trying to ascertain whether any Cabinet or sub-Cabinet officials other than Mr. Brown had come forward to pay back taxes on employees.

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Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative, criticized the handling of Judge Wood. Mr. Kantor, who was Mr. Clinton's campaign chairman last year, said on CNN yesterday that the treatment of Judge Wood was "unfair."

"Judge Wood is one of the most thoroughly decent, able people of integrity I've ever known," Mr. Kantor said. "I worked with Judge Wood in Legal Services, and I don't know of anyone of higher character that I've ever met in my life. And so it's really unfair what's happened here."


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