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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Republican Touted For Defense Chief

WASHINGTON -- With U.S. President Bill Clinton narrowing his choices for top national security posts, retiring Republican Senator William Cohen of Maine emerged Thursday as the focus of attention in the search for a new Defense secretary.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday night that Cohen was the most prominent candidate at the moment -- though the president had not cemented his thinking on the matter.

Clinton's decision was not likely before next month, making it difficult to designate Cohen a clear front-runner. But the official said White House lawyers were reviewing Cohen's background on the hypothesis that he was the top prospect.

Saying the election proved that voters want less partisanship in Washington, Clinton has promised to try to put a Republican in his Cabinet. The Democratic president made the same claim in 1992, but never followed through.

Cohen, a frequent critic of administration policy, said Sunday he would be willing to serve in the Cabinet. "I think anyone who was asked to be secretary of state would be hard-pressed to reject it," he said. "I think the same thing is true with respect to secretary of defense."

Word of Cohen's rising prominence as a candidate came after the White House acknowledged it was moving slower than expected to fill Clinton's Cabinet. Press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters that Secretary of State Warren Christopher's replacement would not be announced before Clinton leaves for a 12-day overseas trip Friday, as the White House had hoped.

But officials say the president's list of secretary of state candidates has narrowed to four names: former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell; U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright; Richard Holbrooke, who helped negotiate the Bosnia settlement; and former Senator Sam Nunn.

National Security Advisor Tony Lake, who had been mentioned for the post, is now under heavy consideration to head the CIA. Under a scenario gaining momentum, old Clinton pal Strobe Talbott would move from his State Department post to take Lake's job.

Six members of the 14-person Cabinet have told the White House they are leaving. A seventh, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, is said to be on his way out, too. Clinton held a brief one-on-one session Thursday with Education Secretary Richard Riley, whose future in the Cabinet has been in doubt. Clinton is a fan of Riley's, but an administration official said the president and Riley are keeping their options open until later in the transition -- in case Clinton needs him for another post in the Cabinet or White House. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clinton also met with Charlene Barshefsky, who has been acting U.S. trade representative since April. White House officials said afterward that Clinton told Barshefsky he wants her to take the post permanently but his legal team needs to find a way to overcome legal restrictions that could prohibit her service because of private work for Canada.

He also met with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and asked her to stay in the Cabinet. She said yes.