- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

From combined dispatches
LONDON Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, choked backed tears yesterday while publicly acknowledging mistakes in her involvement with an Australian con man.
Mrs. Blair said she erred twice by allowing someone she barely knew to become involved in her family's affairs and by brushing off questions in an attempt to protect her family's privacy.
Her admission came after days of newspaper stories about Peter Foster, a convicted con artist who helped Mrs. Blair close a $790,000 property deal.
Earlier yesterday, the prime minister's office accused the press of "character assassination" and insisted there was no evidence of wrongdoing in Mrs. Blair's dealings with Foster.
But charges that immigration officials tried to hasten Foster's deportation from Britain and that Mrs. Blair called the con man's attorneys to discuss his case kept the story on front pages.
"I now realize I made two mistakes," Mrs. Blair said in a detailed statement last night.
The "immediate instinct" when faced with newspaper questions about the deal "was to protect my family's privacy and particularly my son in his first term at university living away from home," she said.
"The second mistake I made was to allow someone I barely knew and had not then met to get involved in my family's affairs," she said.
Mrs. Blair said she had not known the "full story" about Foster until a couple of weeks ago and that she had met him only once "for less than five minutes."
She had been faced with charges that she or people at her husband's office had phoned the Home Office and the Immigration Department to take up Foster's deportation case "or depending on which allegation you listen to, to kick Mr. Foster out of the country."
"Neither set of allegations is true," she said.
"I am sorry if I have embarrassed anyone, but the people who know me well know that I would never want to harm anyone least of all Tony or the children or the Labor government, or misuse my position in any way," Mrs. Blair said.
Foster helped Mrs. Blair negotiate the purchase of two apartments in Bristol and saved her a reported $109,000.
The deal was legal, but Mrs. Blair a leading civil rights lawyer and her husband's office created a political crisis by at first denying, then confirming, Foster's involvement.
Mrs. Blair met Foster, who had been convicted for peddling bogus diet teas, through style guru Carole Caplin, his girlfriend.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Blair provoked a dispute when she said young Palestinians had "no hope but to blow themselves up," speaking hours after 19 Israelis were killed by a suicide bomber. Her comment outraged opponents of Mr. Blair's government.
Friends say Mrs. Blair has been more passionately political than her husband. She ran for Parliament at the same time as he did in 1980. She lost; he won.

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