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Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hillary's calling the shots, Bill says

New York Daily News

WASHINGTON — After being surprised by her husband's role in the Dubai ports deal, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has insisted that Bill Clinton give her "final say" over what he says and does, well-placed sources said.

The former president agreed to give his wife a veto to avoid his habit of making controversial headlines that could hurt her chances of returning to the White House, according to multiple sources.

"He knows it's Hillary's time now," said an adviser close to both Clintons who expects to play a key role in her likely 2008 presidential campaign.

Hillary Clinton's staff is keeping a close rein on the former president's schedule to try to prevent another embarrassment like their competing roles in the Dubai ports deal. While she was blasting the Bush administration for allowing Dubai to manage operations at six of the country's ports, he was advising Dubai on how to sell the deal.

"Hillary has final say," said the adviser, and the ex-president's staff has been warned not to do or say anything without running it by the senator's staff.

"That was true in the White House during the (2000) Senate campaign," recalled another longtime aide who stayed close to the ex-president after he left office.

Hillary Clinton's aides denied that her husband's comments have been a liability but concede she is calling the shots.

"Since she got elected five years ago, and given their hectic schedules, it is more interesting how little there has been of this," said the senator's campaign spokeswoman Ann Lewis, referring to their contradictory statements. "She is the elected official. She makes the ultimate decisions," Lewis said.

Bill Clinton's spokesman Jay Carson added, "Anyone who says he is doing everything he can to help her get re-elected is absolutely right."

Hillary Clinton's camp recognizes Bill Clinton's enormous political value if the senator decides to run for the White House. The former president is hosting several get-togethers around the country with former staffers and is planning some regional town-hall meeting and panel discussions to talk about success stories from what Hillary Clinton likes to call "our administration."

He is also a star attraction at fundraisers for his wife.

Still, the senator's advisers are trying to put a muzzle on her husband's more controversial comments and actions that have hindered her effort to paint herself as a national-security hawk, a crucial part of her political makeover.

The Dubai port controversy was the latest episode that allowed her critics to accuse her of duplicity. Because of their contrasting actions, the Clintons were lampooned by conservatives, and Hillary Clinton faded away as a leading voice of criticism for the ports deal.

The ex-president also sent his spokesman as well as his wife's aides scrambling when he lashed out at President Bush during a speech in Dubai last November, saying the Iraq war was "a big mistake." Hillary Clinton has supported the war.

Bill Clinton jokingly acknowledges he can be a liability. "It's fun to be able to say what you want, and I do that, but I do try to avoid doing anything that complicates Hillary's life," he says in a now-routine line in his public remarks.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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