All the president's men (and one woman)

Clinton's legal team, arguing before the Senate, displaysdifferent voices and styles.

Linda Ramer emerged from the Senate visitors' gallery with a new point of view this week. And it was White House counsel Charles Ruff who gave it to her.

Up to now, this Californian had been leaning toward conviction for the president. But Mr. Ruff offered a "very interesting step-by-step refutation" of the charges against Mr. Clinton, she said. "Now, I'm rethinking."

Brick by brick, the White House legal wrecking crew has tried to dismantle the case of perjury and obstruction of justice against the president.

For the disparate members of the president's team, it has been probably the most public lawyering they will ever undertake. And whatever happens to their client, their tough defense has likely catapulted them into the very top ranks of Washington attorneys.

Senators of both parties say the team has scored at least some points as it has pounded away at the case presented by House managers. Their strategy of arguing against the prosecution point-by-point represents a shift from their past approach of largely focusing on the overall importance, or lack thereof, of the case.

The White House had no choice but to use the deconstruction strategy, says Georgetown University law professor Viet Dinh, a former counsel for the Senate Whitewater Committee. "The House managers lifted dry testimony and brought it to life in a broad story. The White House had to engage on that story, and the only way was to deconstruct it in order to say that the points don't add up to the whole."

Whether this accomplishes the White House goals of a quick trial with no witnesses and no conviction remains to be seen over the coming days. Not all observers believe the defense did an outstanding job.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, describes their work as merely "workmanlike" and "technical," with "little passion or particular insight." By defending their client as they would a criminal defendant, he says, the public may come to see him that way.

General Ruff

Like the members of any effective team, the White House lawyers fulfill different roles. White House counsel Charles Ruff might be seen as the general - the experienced hand who directs moves at times of crisis.

A former Watergate prosecutor, and attorney for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department, Ruff has a history of public service. He has defended a long string of high-profile clients, from Anita Hill to Sen. Charles Robb (D) of Virginia.

He was the White House opener, says Georgetown University law professor Viet Dinh, because "he speaks with credibility."

In a concise presentation that was calm yet biting, Ruff attacked the constitutionality and facts of the case, finishing up with an uncharacteristically emotional appeal to all involved to fulfill their constitutional duty and not remove the president.

Mr. Inside

Next up was special counsel Gregory Craig, who, hired to head the anti-impeachment team last October, has managed to bridge the gap between the often clashing legal and political sides of the White House. He's viewed by the administration as a valuable asset because of his congressional contacts, built during his former role as a Senate staffer.

Mr. Craig, whom White House spokesman Jim Kennedy describes as "very likable," picked apart the charge of perjury, arguing that the allegations were vague, minor, or simply not true.

Suddenly starring

After Craig came a White House face unfamiliar to most Americans: Cheryl Mills, a behind-the-scenes worker who has been in the counsel's office since Clinton took over the Oval Office. She spared no mercy for House managers when it came to the issue of obstruction of justice as it related to gifts and alleged presidential coaching of secretary Betty Currie.

The effective presentation of this young Stanford University law graduate won plaudits from both sides of the aisle. As an accomplished African-American, Ms. Mills also presented a contrast to the all-white, all male House prosecutors. She used her platform to remind senators of the president's civil-rights record.

Forechecker and The Closer

The White House defense team was expected to wrap up yesterday with presentations by the president's private attorney, David Kendall - a man known for being as combative as a hockey forward. Clinton's old friend, Dale Bumpers (D), former senator and governor from Arkansas, will close the case.

Both Republicans and Democrats say calling on former Senator Bumpers, who was one of their colleagues until last November, was a shrewd move. He's well liked and is a persuasive orator.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to All the president's men (and one woman)
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today