The departure of Clinton intimate Webster L. Hubbell is making Attorney General Janet Reno work harder to improve her standing with the President. Hubbell's position as the White House's man at Justice might have caused friction. But Reno worked closely with the department's No.3 official until a dispute over billing practices with his (and Hillary Rodham Clinton's) former partners at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm forced him out.

Hubbell was a buffer between the independent-minded Attorney General and a White House staff that viewed her warily. With this protection gone, Reno is working hard to stay on the White House reservation as the top-priority crime bill moves through Congress. The Attorney General, who once talked more about prevention and rehabilitation than punishment, is now taking a much harder line.

She's also working closely with former Associate White House Counsel Ronald A. Klain, sent to Justice to oversee crime-bill lobbying. "Klain is carrying a lot of the ball," says one Justice insider. Crime-bill talking points are scripted for Justice officials by Klain's office and vetted by White House political aide Rahm Emanuel. Reno pushes Oval Office themes, including community policing and the three-strikes-you're-out provision requiring life imprisonment after conviction for three violent felonies. Klain also set up a structure based on the White House war room to muster Justice Dept. lobbying efforts. And Reno, who sat passively while the Senate crafted tough crime legislation last November, worked to shape the House version.

Reno has always enjoyed greater public popularity than any other Clinton Cabinet member. In her new and more exposed position, the Attorney General is worrying much more about a different audience: the one man who really counts.

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