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The first trip arranged by the reorganized White House travel office headed by President Clinton's cousin barely got off the ground Saturday.

The Midwest Express plane hired by the office to fly the news media to New Hampshire to cover a commencement speech by President Clinton sat at Andrews Air Force Base for more than an hour as mechanics replaced a leaky fuel line.

The White House promised news organizations, which must pay for the chartered planes, a more efficient travel operation with less cost when seven longtime travel office employees were fired last Wednesday for alleged "gross mismanagement."

Clinton joked that "the press got a 25 percent break," referring to a lower charter rate paid by the news media. Of the troubled plane, he said, "It's not my job. The press can take care of themselves."

The travel office has become an embarrassment for the president as questions were raised about the timing of the firings and the motivation behind them.

An Arkansas travel agency recommended by Clinton's distant cousin Catherine Cornelius, 25, who is now in charge of the travel office, was hired to handle press travel arrangement until competitive bids could be issued.

But that agency -- World Wide Travel Service, based in Little Rock, Ark. -- was suddenly replaced late Friday by American Express Travel.

World Wide Travel asked that it be replaced because of questions about its relationship with Clinton's campaign last year and business relationship with a current White House official.

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