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Cheney's top communication aide leaves White House

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mary Matalin, Vice President Dick Cheney's top public relations strategist, is leaving her job for the private sector. She will remain an informal political adviser to the White House as President Bush prepares for re-election.

Matalin, the wife of Democratic consultant James Carville and the mother of two girls, said in a telephone interview Friday she is seeking employment opportunities that will leave her more flexibility to be with her family. She has told associates for weeks that her departure was imminent, and made it official Friday.

``I came into the White House thinking because of the youth of my family ... that I could reasonably stay for a year or so,'' Matalin said. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she felt compelled to stay a bit longer.

Her deputy, Cathie Martin, will be promoted to assistant to the vice president and director of Cheney's public affairs office.

``Mary is just the best,'' Cheney said in a statement. ``The entire Cheney family is in awe of the superb job she has done and grateful we'll be able to call on her many talents in the future.''

Matalin benefited from her boss' unusual influence inside the White House and became a key adviser not only to Cheney but also Bush. She was at the center of most high-profile announcements at the White House.

Matalin and Karen Hughes are among the most influential women to serve as White House aides. Hughes, a senior adviser to Bush, left the White House in August to move her family back to Texas. Hughes now works for the Republican National Committee, gives lucrative speeches and is writing a book while advising Bush on the largest public relations issues.

Matalin will likely pursue a similar course, and also is expected to be involved in Bush's re-election campaign.

Matalin is one of the White House's better known figures because of her marriage to Carville, an outspoken critic of Bush, and her high-profile work at the Republican National Committee and in the first Bush White House.

The couple has two daughters, Ema, 4, and Matty, 7. ``Matty just asked me to be the room mother next year and baby said she wants to be a ballerina,'' Matalin said. ``I promised her she would.''

Matalin said she will have no trouble making the transition to the private sector and avoiding conflicts of interest at the White House. ``It's a narrow way to make a living, but thank God I've got a money-grubbing husband,'' she joked.

White House officials said Matalin is part of the traditional turnover that occurs inside an administration after midterm elections. Several other aides, few of them household names, are expected to leave in the coming weeks.

``Mary is a great friend and ally of the president and the vice president, she's done marvelous work for the country and for this administration,'' Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. ``She'll stay very close to all of us here, including the vice president.''
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