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Clinton delays Breyer decision as tax questions arise

President Clinton put off an announcement of his first selection to the Supreme Court until at least Monday as questions arose about front-runner Stephen Breyer's failure to pay Social Security taxes for a domestic employee.

A White House official confirmed a CBS report that Breyer had failed to pay Social Security taxes and said the White House had known of the situation "for quite awhile."

The official said the White House was taking the matter seriously in discussions with senators, but did not believe it would disqualify Breyer or be a serious barrier to his confirmation if nominated.

The official said he did not have full details of the Breyer situation, but said it definitely was "not a Zoe Baird" problem of knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant and failing to pay taxes.

The White House official compared Breyer to others appointed by Clinton _ including Commerce Secretary Ron Brown _ who did not know they were supposed to pay Social Security taxes for certain workers and paid them, retroactively, when apprised.

Another White House official said the administration discovered the situation "a number of weeks ago" and briefed several senators on the matter "before we even approached Breyer." The official said Clinton "has been aware of it, too. I'm not sure how long, but he's been aware of it."

Breyer, 54, is chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

As anticipation about the president's choice mounted Saturday, press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton would not be rushed into one of the most important decisions of his presidency.

She gave no hint that delays were associated with potential problems with the judge's nomination and the White House official who spoke later insisted that the delay was not related to the Social Security matter.

But Sen. William Cohen, a member of the Judiciary Committee that passes on nominees, said the revelations could cause difficulties.

"Obviously, the women's groups will be somewhat outraged to the extent that Zoe Baird couldn't be confirmed as attorney general and Kimba Wood . . . withdrew herself (because of similar circumstances)," said Cohen, R-Maine.