Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- While Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was ripping President Bush's handling of American ports management, Bill Clinton was pushing for one of his favorite White House aides to be hired to defend the deal. The former president proposed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) his onetime press secretary, Joe Lockhart, as Washington spokesman for the UAE-owned company, Dubai Ports World.

The Lockhart deal was never consummated. But the spectacle of the two Clintons going in opposite directions on the UAE port-management question exposed a Democratic fault line. Widespread public reaction against outsourcing control of the ports was seen by Sen. Clinton and other prominent Democrats as a chance to outflank the Republicans on homeland security in this year's elections. Behind the scenes, however, Democrats aligned with the Clinton family were lobbying for the UAE.

The lineup over the DP World raises questions about how Bill Clinton's free and easy political manner will impact his wife's prospective presidential campaign for 2008. Highly disciplined Hillary Clinton plays politics by the numbers, following a carefully plotted strategy. Her husband's freewheeling, intuitive style was typified when he tried to secure a well-paid assignment for his friend and valued aide, Joe Lockhart, who now heads a Washington-based media firm.

According to well-placed UAE sources, the former president made the suggestion at the very highest level of the oil-rich state. The relationship between him and the UAE is far from casual. The sheikdom has contributed to the Clinton Presidential Library, and brought Clinton to Dubai in 2002 and 2005 for highly paid speeches (reportedly at $300,000 apiece). He was there in 2003 to announce a scholarship program for American students traveling to Dubai.

Certainly, the emirs would pay the closest attention to any request from the former president. Lockhart did confer with DP World officials, but they failed to reach agreement. The UAE sources said that Lockhart's asking price was much too high.

Lockhart did not flatly deny to me that Clinton had made a pitch for him, but instead said he did not know whether the former president was involved. Lockhart said he was recommended by another Clintonite: Carol Browner, the former Environmental Protection Agency chief and now a principal in the Albright Group lobbying firm. Headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the company is representing DP World. Lockhart told me "money was not the problem" as he turned down the offer.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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