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Hamilton Jordan's role in White House quietly shifts

The "invisible man" in the White House these days is Hamilton Jordan. He's not hiding. But his effort to keep a low profile, while a special prosecutor looks into an allegation that he used cocaine, has obscured an important development in White House organization:

Mr. Jordan, who last summer finally acceded to the President's demand that he take on the mantle of chief of staff, is acting much more like Mr. Carter's top political consultant and overall troubleshooter than like the typical chief White House boss.

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Instead, Alonzo McDonald, who bears the title of White House staff director, more and more has assumed the role of administration honcho. As such, Mr. McDonald takes prime responsibility for seeing to it that proposals going to the President are properly coordinated before they reach his desk and then acting as the ramrod who sees to it that presidential initiatives and commands are properly carried out.

As one White House aide explains the Jordan role: "Hamilton has in recent weeks taken over the policymaking and oversight for the Carter campaign -- very much as he did in 1976."

Obviously, this is a pretty full-time job. Further, it is the sort of thing that Mr. Jordan likes to do. He has said again and again that he simply doesn't see himself as an administrator.

But Mr. Jordan still is looked upon as the President's "chief" -- the strong man at the President's elbow.

And Mr. Jordan does preside at the daily White House staff meetings, at least most of the time. When he is absent, Mr. McDonald sits in for him.

But Mr. Jordan just won't let himself get locked into the desk job that previous chiefs of staff have held. Instead, he relies on the managerial skills of Mr. McDonald who, himself, sometimes steps out of purely administrative duties to give advice to the President on trade matters.

Before moving into the White House Mr. McDonald was a special trade envoy for the President.

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Mr. Jordan also is deeply involved in special missions and trouble shooting for the President. It will be recalled that it was he who was sent by the President to arrange asylum in Panama for the deposed Shah of Iran. And there are reports coming out of the White House that Mr. Jordan also is performing some special chores in connection with the effort to free the hostages in Iran.

Another White House aide who is a daily watcher of the Jordan-McDonald operation says he thinks it is inevitable that Mr. McDonald will more and more become the de facto chief of staff as Mr. Jordan becomes fully absorbed in the campaign.


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