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Thursday, August 29, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Clinton Aide Quits In Scandal -- Top Adviser Morris Linked To Prostitute

AP

CHICAGO - President Clinton's top political adviser, Dick Morris, resigned today after a tabloid reported that he had a relationship with a prostitute and allowed her to eavesdrop on calls to the White House.

Morris, a longtime Clinton friend who has had a controversial role in the White House, appeared with the president this week on the cover of Time magazine under the headline: "The man who has Clinton's ear."

The resignation, announced in a seven-paragraph statement by Morris, created an enormous distraction for Clinton just as he was preparing his evening address to accept the Democratic nomination.

It also means Clinton heads into the final nine weeks of the campaign without the outside consultant who masterminded his political comeback following the 1994 elections.

"While I served, I sought to avoid the limelight because I did not want to become the message," Morris wrote. "Now, I resign so I will not become the issue."

Clinton, who has worked with Morris for years, said in a statement he was thankful for Morris' help in the campaign. "Dick Morris is my friend and he is a superb political strategist," the president said.

The resignation came after the New York Post published an account from the Star magazine that said two days before the start of the Democratic convention, Morris showed Sherry Rowlands copies of the speeches Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Al Gore would deliver days later.

On another occasion early in their relationship, the paper said, Morris called the president and held out the telephone so Rowlands could hear Clinton. "There was no doubt about it, it was The Man," the Star quoted her as writing in her diary. "I was finally impressed."

The account included diary entries from Rowlands giving intimate details of their alleged relationship. The Star printed photos of Morris and Rowlands kissing and hugging, and another of them together in bathrobes.

Morris' response: "I will not subject my wife, family or friends to the sadistic vitriol of yellow journalism."

Press secretary Mike McCurry said Morris was not asked to resign and that he had no information on the veracity of the story. He said Clinton planned to talk to Morris by telephone, probably sometime after he delivers his acceptance address tonight.

McCurry said Morris played an important role in the campaign, "but life will go on."

Morris said he was honored to help the president "come back from being buried in a landslide and make it possible for him to have a second chance at a second term."

Morris has always been a controversial figure in the White House, condemned by liberals who disagreed with his strategy of having Clinton co-opt Republican issues.

The Post quoted Phil Bunton, editor-in-chief of the Star, as saying Rowlands came to the tabloid with the information in mid-July and that "she kept this diary of all the things he told her."

The Star, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., is the newspaper that paid Gennifer Flowers for her account of her alleged affair with Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

In the newspaper account, Morris referred to Clinton as "the Monster" because of his quick temper and called Mrs. Clinton "the Twister," saying it was because of her tendency to stir things up.

When the affair started, Rowlands was a $200-an-hour escort, according to the Star. Later she quit the escort service and started a home- and office-cleaning service.

The account allegedly from Rowland's diary also said that Morris told her about the discovery that there may have been life on Mars, about a week before it was made public by NASA.

The news of Morris' demise swept through the White House staff, and was met with some relief. Morris had many enemies in Clinton's inner circle; his unparalleled access to the president and perceived arrogance rankled White House aides from the start.

One White House official, when asked whether Morris was resigning, smiled and said, "If there is a God. . . ."

Morris had worked for years as a consultant to Republican campaigns, and Republican chairman Haley Barbour was silent. "If any of you guys think I'm going to rise to the bait, you're in the wrong place," he said.

Morris is widely credited with engineering Clinton's political comeback by urging him to focus on more centrist themes like balancing the budget, welfare reform, anti-crime measures and community values.

Morris' alliance with Clinton dates back to the president's days as Arkansas governor. Since then, however, Morris has worked for many Republican clients, and many Democrats - including top White House aides - were furious when Clinton turned to Morris after the 1994 Republican midterm rout.

But even his harshest critics in the Clinton White House give Morris a good chunk of the credit for Clinton's comeback. A year ago, many considered the president on a path to near-certain 1996 defeat.

Morris and his wife, attorney Eileen McGann, live in West Redding, Conn.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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