washingtonpost.com
Bill Clinton's Aide, Now in the Story
Real Estate Deal Spotlights Shadow Player

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Who is this guy?

Velcroed to a very agitated Bill Clinton as he ripped into a TV reporter not long ago was a pale, silent gentleman with prematurely thinning hair. He could have been any political voyeur witnessing a campaign train wreck -- except, from a different vantage point, you might have seen him place his hand on the former president's back, trying to calm him down.

As Clinton challenged the reporter's questions over caucus rules, growing redder with every salvo, the tall man never strayed from the center of the picture frame. Since that confrontation in Oakland, Calif., last month, the video has been viewed nearly 800,000 times in various versions on YouTube . But the hovering mute in the khaki suit is never identified.

This is a good thing: Any experienced political "body man" knows not to become part of the story.

For more than a decade, Douglas Band has tried to hold fast to the rules of his trade: Stay close to the client from morning until night, guard all roads (and all phones) to the client and keep your mouth shut. Band has been glued to Clinton's side throughout these tense days as the former president campaigns relentlessly for his wife throughout Texas and Ohio in what is widely viewed as her last chance to stem Barack Obama's momentum.

Since Band's client in this case is one of the most complex, volatile and influential men in American politics, Band has had his hands full. Yet he has succeeded in elevating the historically low-level position to a globe-trotting post-presidency career of high finance, international access and Hollywood intrigue. Today, as counselor to the president, he is among his closest advisers.

Along the way, the former White House intern earned a master's and a law degree at night, dated model Naomi Campbell and married a successful businesswoman and handbag designer, Lily Rafii, in elaborate Paris nuptials that have been the talk of Clintonville. "I'd never been to a wedding with fireworks," reported one satisfied guest.

Still, for all this apparent sizzle, Band, 35, managed all these years to operate below the media radar -- a remarkable feat in a political organization not known for its discretion. He had never been profiled by the media -- and he is never quoted. He declined to speak for the record for this article.

But, as everyone in the Clintons' orbit comes to learn, life with Bill is anything but private. Band's moment came last fall when the Wall Street Journal wrote about his role in brokering a messy $100 million real estate deal involving a young Italian businessman, Clinton's California buddy Ron Burkle and Michael Cooper, a Canadian contributor to Clinton's foundation. The Italian, Raffaello Follieri, was looking for partners to join him in buying and developing land owned by the Vatican. He also said he could help Hillary Clinton with Catholic voters, according to the Journal. Band hooked him up.

Burkle has since sued Follieri for "misappropriating" his investment to support a high life of expensive dinners and private jets. (Follieri has been linked romantically with the actress Anne Hathaway.) The publicity was embarrassing for Clinton and Band, who were advisers to Burkle's company, Yucaipa, before recently severing business ties to avoid questions about Clinton's financial dealings in the middle of his wife's campaign; both Clinton and Band stand to receive generous financial settlements.

The story for the first time turned a spotlight on Band and his increasingly complex relationship with Clinton. It is safe to say he is now on the radar screen.

'Not Babysitters'

As essential as Band may be -- Clinton has said he "could not get through the day" without him -- there are those in Hillary Clinton's camp who have not been so satisfied with his performance at times. They point to the business deal and Clinton's tirade in Oakland as being emblematic of a broader problem, and refer to Band privately as an "enabler" for the notoriously undisciplined politician.

Band's stock response: A guy in his job is never credited for the 10,000 saves -- only blamed for the misses.

"His [bleep] detector is pretty high, but like all of us, it's not foolproof," says John Podesta, who was Clinton's White House chief of staff. "You've got a million people who want to grab on to Clinton's sleeve and it's not an easy task to be the person who stands between them and the president."

Among other things, the real estate deal raised questions about how many other business ventures Band enjoys with the president (none, says a spokesman), how he screens those trying to get access to Clinton, and about the propriety of him getting a $400,000 finder's fee on the Burkle deal. (Band has said, and others confirm, that he passed the money to others involved in the transaction.) Band's defenders point out that he is not a government employee and is paid by Clinton personally as well as by the William J. Clinton Foundation, which raises money for global projects.

In fairness, this might be a good time to mention that his could be the hardest job in America -- managing a hyper-energetic insomniac who invites everyone to be his best friend, can't say no to anyone and rarely passes up an opportunity to socialize. Band carries three cellphones and has had to become a fairly skilled Oh Hell player to keep up with Clinton's marathon card games.

There are plenty of times when Band has at least tried to steer Clinton clear of a potentially awkward situation, say sources close to the Clinton operation. Just recently, Band thought it unpresidential for Clinton to stop by a late-night party in Phoenix hosted by NFL legend Jim Brown; Clinton went anyway. "We're not babysitters," said a senior staffer for Hillary Clinton's campaign and a Band ally who asked for anonymity, not wanting to appear to criticize Clinton. "You do your best, but sometimes you just stand in the way of destiny."

Some say Band is unnecessarily gruff and overzealous in protecting Clinton. He butted heads with Hillary Clinton's longtime personal confidante Maggie Williams (recently named her campaign manager) when Williams briefly worked for Bill Clinton as his post-presidency chief of staff. While Williams was in charge of the office, Band had Clinton's ear when they were on the road. Sources say Williams found an office structure with competing lines of authority untenable.

But Band also has a multitude of powerful patrons in what is known as William Jefferson Clinton Inc., among them: Bruce Lindsey, a longtime Clinton friend and adviser, now chief executive officer of Clinton's foundation; Podesta; and Cheryl Mills, a former White House lawyer who helped represent Clinton during the impeachment and now works for Hillary Clinton.

And, of course, his biggest booster is the one who matters most.

"I'm amazed he still works for me because he could make a lot more money somewhere else," Bill Clinton said in a telephone interview. "But he believes in what we're doing."

Clinton credits Band for first articulating the idea for the Clinton Global Initiative, the action-driven project around which Clinton has shaped his post-presidency -- raising hundreds of millions of dollars for international causes, and annually bringing together corporate and global leaders. The former president dismissed any suggestion that Band should have known to steer clear of the flamboyant young Italian in the real estate deal: "This guy had a letter from the Vatican."

A Big-Deal Job

Band is the fourth and last son of a well-to-do Sarasota, Fla., family, often recognized for their philanthropic contributions to the community. He attended public high school, is an accomplished tennis player and was a student leader at the University of Florida. According to Myra Morgan, a school administrator, Band came up with the idea for a "Gifts for Guns" initiative in Gainesville, where the interfraternity council teamed up with law enforcement. In return for guns, students handed out gift cards, footballs autographed by players, Gator clothing and items belonging to famous university athletes.

He joined the Clinton White House in the fall of 1995 as an unpaid intern working for Mills in the counsel's office. He was eventually hired in that office, and earned a Georgetown law degree at night school. He became the president's personal aide full time in 1998, a job one of his predecessors likened to "drinking out of a fire hose every day."

Band had an early moment in the spotlight when he was interviewed by independent counsel Kenneth Starr because Band had once escorted Monica Lewinsky to a White House ball. The date was memorialized in a photograph for which Band was offered (and turned down) a great deal of money by media outlets. It was ultimately was turned over to Starr by the president's lawyer, David Kendall.

Friends and family say Band has tried to stay close to his roots, despite the 24/7 demands of the job. Every year he makes a point of attending a reunion with about 20 college friends. He has also brought his family into his fast-paced world. His brother, Roger, an emergency medicine physician and professor at the University of Pennsylvania hospital in Philadelphia, serves as Clinton's personal physician on overseas trips. His parents, Myrna and David, this month hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at their home in Sarasota . And of course, when Band worked at the White House, everyone got a personal tour.

"I had no idea what a big deal his job was" at the White House, says Roger Band. "When he took us into the Oval Office, I was like, 'Oh, cool, what, did some guy let you in?' Then I saw his name on the speed dial."

When Clinton left office in 2001, Band flirted with going to work at Goldman Sachs, but both Clintons prevailed on him to stay. He raised significant sums of money for the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, and when the Clinton Global Initiative was launched in 2005, he took on a lot of the management responsibilities to get the annual fundraising meeting of global and business leaders up and going quickly, and now accompanies Clinton to all corners of the Earth.

It's so much more than being a body man, and yet he has not given up those duties either. How old is too old to be a body man? Band has been asked many times when he'll strike out on his own. In response, the aide talks less about Clinton and more about the opportunities his job offers to do good around the world, to create global programs, to raise money for AIDS care in Africa.

In other words: no time soon.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company