With Friends Like Hillary

No One Doubts Her Status As A Very special friend of Bill and Hillary--or that Susan Thomases, a brash New York securities lawyer who has known both Clintons since the 1970s, played an important unofficial role in the confusion after Vince Foster's suicide. Thomases, who served the Clinton presidential campaign as chief scheduler and who is still Hillary Clinton's private lawyer, will be questioned at the Senate Whitewater hearings this week. That should raise her profile as an influential member of the Clinton entourage. But what few outside the Beltway know is that Thomases has turned her friendship into a career as a Washington influence peddler-and she isn't subtle about it.

Thomases declined repeated requests for comment. But those who have seen her at work describe a heavy-handed style. Hired to represent a group of Puerto Rican companies in a dispute with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she stunned a lawyer representing the firms by announcing that "this matter is not going to be reviewed by the president of the United States"-the message being that she could involve him if need be. The lawyer, Dan Krivit, says his first thought was "I would hope he's got better things to do."

Thomases charged ahead-and got to the top of the White House staff. In late March she got Krivit a meeting with Bruce Katz, chief of staff at HUD. Katz then got a call from White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes inquiring about the Puerto Rican problem. "I'm asked for status reports on lots of things," Katz said.

Thomases also represented the Niagara River Toll Bridge Commission, an obscure quasi-public body in upper New York state, in a profoundly picayune dispute with the National Park Service. The commission wanted to build a toll plaza; the Feds objected that the structure might obstruct the view of Niagara Falls. "There's no question Susan used the specter of White House interest as a calling card," one participant says. During a meeting with recalcitrant federal officials, this source recalls, Thomases mentioned her involvement in the administration's plans to "reinvent government," then pointedly told her adversaries "who knows where you're all going to end up" when the reorganization is over.

She is now using her clout to help J.P. Morgan and Co. on an issue of far greater significance than tollbooths. The company hopes to finance the privatization of the U.S. Enrichment Corporation, a federally backed agency that buys de-enriched uranium from Russia's nuclear-weapons stock-pile. The idea of privatizing USEC is controversial, since critics say it could create a monopoly in the world uranium market. In recent months Thomases has pressed the plan with senior Treasury officials.

Ironically, only last week Clinton announced a decision to restrict lobbyists' access to federal officials. The reform will apply to many other Beltway operators, of course--but the Clintons might want to make an exception for the First Lady's pal.