Mr. Obama’s offer to make Mrs. Clinton his top diplomat has become clouded by mystery and mixed signals that threaten to overshadow his transition to the White House. Some sources close to her say that she remains keen to take the job. Others are indicating she is reluctant to give up her career as an elected politician with an independent voice.
A number of Mr. Obama’s aides are known to harbor reservations about appointing his former rival for the Democratic nomination to such a senior post, where doubtless she would seek to bring in several of the advisers they clashed with hardest during the primary battle.
Their skepticism has been reinforced by the saga of recent days -- punctuated by leaks and semi-public agonizing - which contrasts sharply with the “no-drama Obama” approach that characterized his campaign.
Yesterday it emerged that Tom Daschle, the former Senate leader and prominent supporter of Mr. Obama, had been lined up to be health secretary. On Tuesday Eric Holder was named as favorite to become America’s first black attorney-general.
Both of these expected appointments have been eclipsed by the Clintons. “Holder, in particular, is a big deal,” said one senior Democrat, “but he has been lost amid all the chatter about Hillary.”
The chief concern in Mr. Obama’s Chicago headquarters is over the prospect of Bill Clinton, a former president with stellar international appeal and a tangled web of overseas donors, embarrassing the next administration or being seen as an alternative avenue for influence over US foreign policy.
The Clinton camp is keen to show that it is co-operating with the vetting process. Mr. Clinton has agreed to release the names of several key benefactors to his charitable foundation, while also referring future activities and paid speeches to an ethics review. Public records show that Mr. Clinton has raised money from the Saudi Royal Family, Kuwait, Brunei and Qatar, as well as from a Chinese internet company monitoring Tibetan human rights activists.
Funding for his presidential library has been more secretive, with Mr. Obama’s campaign pressing him repeatedly during the primaries to disclose the names of donors -- thought to include several foreign governments -- who had been promised anonymity by Mr. Clinton.
In negotiations between teams of lawyers over recent days, the former president is said to have promised that he will step down from day-to-day control over his foundation while balking at suggestions that he submit speeches and business dealings to the White House for prior approval.
Mrs. Clinton is said to be genuinely torn about whether to accept the post and has sought to damp down the speculation over the past five days by hinting that she might choose to remain in the Senate.
“If you are secretary of state you work for the president. If you are a senator, you work for yourself and the people that elected you,” an adviser told The New York Times.
Rahm Emanuel, who has been appointed Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff, appeared on a business forum organized by The Wall Street Journal this week. “Hillary Clinton -- secretary of state?” he was asked. “Good question mark,” he replied. © The Times, London