By Ceci Connolly and John F. Harris
President Clinton's on-again, off-again relationship with shamed political guru Dick Morris is definitely off, White House aides declared yesterday, fuming over lurid comments the consultant made about the first couple's sex life.
As every other Clinton adviser struggles to steer discussions about the president away from sex, Morris waded into the thick of it Tuesday morning. In an interview with a Los Angeles radio talk show, the consultant, who was dismissed from Clinton's reelection team after his relationship with a prostitute became public, speculated that a chilly marriage might explain some questionable behavior by the president.
In graphic detail, Morris speculated on Clinton's fantasies and what might constitute adultery in the president's mind.
"The public for the most part is quite forgiving of adultery," he said on station KABC. Morris warned that voters take a far dimmer view of perjury.
Clinton, grappling with the worst crisis of his political career, has turned to battle-hardened veterans, including former commerce secretary Mickey Kantor and former deputy chief of staff Harold E. Ickes. Democratic sources close to the White House said Morris consulted on the State of the Union speech and gave Clinton advice about responding to the controversy over his alleged sexual relationship with a former White House intern.
White House spokesman Michael McCurry has acknowledged Morris frequently sent faxes and called in ideas in recent weeks, and that Clinton would occasionally talk with him. "I doubt that will ever happen again," McCurry said yesterday.
In a brief interview Tuesday, Morris confirmed his comments but refused to talk about any recent consultations he may have had with Clinton. He said he was goaded into discussing the Clintons' sex life. A transcript of the radio program reveals Morris volunteered his theories on the president.
"I don't really know, but let's assume, okay, that his sexual relationship with Hillary is not all it's supposed to be," he said at one point.
White House aides reported that Clinton was outraged by Morris's remarks. "The president had exactly the reaction that you'd expect," McCurry said, urging reporters to stay away from the tawdry topic.
The latest controversy fits a familiar pattern. In times of trouble, Clinton summons Morris to the rescue -- until he gets ensnared in a crisis himself and is banished.
The two first met in Arkansas in 1978. When Clinton was ousted from the governor's office in 1980, it was Morris who helped him win it back in 1982. After the Republicans routed the Democrats in the 1994 congressional elections, Clinton again called in the fidgety New York native, and Morris is largely credited with crafting the president's 1995 comeback.
Morris fell from grace the next year during the Democratic convention when a tabloid newspaper detailed his relationship with a call girl. Describing himself as a sex addict, Morris also acknowledged the prostitute had listened in on private conversations with the president.
At the time, Clinton expressed sadness over his friend's marital troubles. White House aides, resentful of Morris's enormous ego and close relationship with Clinton, cheered his humiliating departure.
Given those tensions, Morris and Clinton have relied on back-channel forms of communication, sometimes using code names and talking late at night on private telephone lines. In the confusion of the recent crisis, few in the White House knew for certain the extent of Morris's role in shaping a Clinton defense.
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