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COL Laying the groundwork for Hillary

The recent events in Little Rock had less to do with a library retrospective of the Bill Clinton years than a campaign launch for the prospective presidency of Hillary Clinton.

Doubt it? Then why was it Hillary, not Bill, who appeared on all the talk shows? It's his library. But it's her candidacy. So she did all the softball TV interviews, not him -- reminding voters of her availability for 2008 while seeming to talk about the '90s.

The timing is perfect: Democrats demoralized by John Kerry's defeat get to behold hope for the future. It also re-launches Hillary as a red state kind of girl. Needing to live down her recent New York pedigree, Mrs. Clinton gets to renew her identification with Arkansas so she can avoid being labeled a bicoastal liberal. And it gives Hillary a moment to bask in the reflected glory of her husband's middle-of-the-road policies and presidential programs.

To wash away the Kerry identification with gay marriage and opposition to the war in Iraq, Hillary can summon forth memories of welfare reform, balanced budgets, anti-crime initiatives and the Defense of Marriage Act her husband signed. In short, the library gives Hillary the chance to moderate her image, relocate her venue and update her profile to position her for a White House.

Promoting a "nonpartisan" event, interviewers let Hillary get away with anything she wanted to say. For example, when she spoke of the transparency of the architecture of the library building as symbolic of the openness she deems admirable in government, Larry King didn't ask why the names of the donors to the library remain cloaked (let alone why Hillary sued to keep the records of her health-care task force secret) if she is so committed to transparency.

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Plus, Hillary now has all the staffing she needs for a White House run. When she sought the Senate seat, she used the White House staff. Now she has the library workers to prepare her background papers, develop policy initiatives and provide the staffing overhead it takes to run for president. Funded with donations from Democratic Clinton allies, the library is really a support network for Hillary's candidacy.

How typical of the Clintons to refuse to release the names of the library donors or the amount of their contributions. And how exemplary of their shady ethics are the known contributors: Denise Rich and others who benefited from Bill's outrageous presidential pardons. Give money directly to a president, and it's a bribe. Contribute to a campaign, a party or a 527 Committee, and the use of the cash is severely restricted by law.

But donations to a presidential library can be used in any way the Library Board allows. And Bill can replace the board anytime he chooses. Sure, the library can't spend money on overtly political purposes, but it can provide the staff and creature comforts the former president and his candidate/wife require.

Why did Bill Clinton build a library with hidden donations and use the opening ceremony to promote his wife's candidacy for president three weeks after his party's defeat? Because he could.

Dick Morris is an author and former political consultant who was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years.

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