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The BBC's Nick Bryant in Washington
"Democrats sense an early chance to put the new administration on the defensive"
 real 28k

Monday, 8 January, 2001, 23:51 GMT
Bush defends embattled nominee
George W Bush
Painful transition: Moving house seems the least of Mr Bush's worries
US President-elect George W Bush has defended his nominee for labour secretary, Linda Chavez, who has come under attack for sheltering an illegal immigrant in her home.


I do remain confident in Linda, a good person. She'll make a fine cabinet secretary

George W Bush
Mr Bush said he still had confidence in Ms Chavez, even though it has been disclosed that in the early 1990s she provided housing and financial aid to a Guatemalan woman who was in the United States illegally.

"She'll make a fine cabinet secretary," he said.

Mr Bush later admitted that he had not known of the issue when he nominated her.

The Bush transition team has acknowledged that Ms Chavez allowed the woman to stay in her home, but said Ms Chavez did not know at the time about the woman's status.

President Clinton's first choice as Attorney-General, Zoe Baird, failed to take office after it was disclosed that she had employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny.

BBC correspondents say that Ms Chavez was vocal in her criticism of Ms Baird's nomination at the time.

'Charity'

Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer said there was no proof that the cabinet nominee had broken any law.

Linda Chavez
Linda Chavez denies any wrongdoing
Ms Chavez - a Hispanic from New Mexico - had "a history of taking people in", he said.

She had paid the woman - Marta Mercado - for occasional work, but had not employed her, he added.

And Ms Chavez herself told The Washington Post that she took the woman in out of charity.

"I would not turn away from my door a woman who had no place to live and who had been badly mistreated," she said.

Senate scrutiny

Bush officials have also come to the aid of defence secretary nominee Donald Rumsfeld, after the Chicago Tribune printed a conversation between him and former President Richard Nixon, in which Mr Nixon made pejorative comments about blacks.

Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld: Also under fire
The unwelcome distractions have surfaced less than two weeks before Mr Bush takes office, and give Democrats new ammunition for forthcoming Senate confirmation hearings.

Ms Chavez is already one of Mr Bush's most controversial cabinet choices because of what some people view as her deeply conservative views and opposition to increasing the minimum wage.

Democrats are questioning whether she is fit for the job of overseeing the nation's labour laws, and have promised to examine the case during the hearings.

In an interview with American TV station CBS, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said the upper house needed to look into "some of the most controversial" nominations.

Nixon tapes

Democrats on Monday stepped up their attacks against Mr Rumsfeld - who served in the Nixon administration - following the report of his conversation with the president 29 years ago.

In the tapes, which had been preserved on tape in the National Archives, the former president makes a series of characterisations about blacks, to which Mr Rumsfeld responds in a way that could be construed as agreement.

But Mr Fleischer said Mr Rumsfeld did not agree with any of Mr Nixon's comments then and does not now.

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