Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Both parties praise president's counsel

The Washington Post

President on trial
Latest updates from Associated Press
        WASHINGTON — White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff Tuesday drew strong praise from senators of both parties for his opening defense of President Clinton, raising Democrats' spirits but reinforcing Republican demands that witnesses be called in the Senate's impeachment trial.

        Three days after senators from both sides of the aisle credited House prosecutors with making a powerful case for Mr. Clinton's conviction, Republicans joined Democrats in concluding that Mr. Ruff laid out the White House case in compelling detail, including a point-by-point rebuttal of many of the House charges.

"Very credible'
        “The House did a good job in presenting its case and Mr. Ruff did an excellent job in presenting his,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of the Senate's most conservative Republicans. GOP moderate Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, added: “They were very credible in their presentation.”

        Democrats, who had been shaken with the strength of the three-day House GOP presentation last week, were clearly relieved by Mr. Ruff's presentation and even more glowing in their praise.

        “Last week I was very frustrated because I knew some of the facts that hadn't been brought out. Now they have,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who fought against Mr. Clinton's impeachment as a member of the House Judiciary Committee before he was sworn into the Senate earlier this month.

        Neither the House prosecutors nor Mr. Ruff appear to have changed many minds. But, to the extent that he helped solidify Democrats on Mr. Clinton's behalf, Mr. Ruff made it harder for Republicans to peel off the dozen Democratic votes needed for the two-thirds majority to oust Mr. Clinton from office. And, just as the House team impressed the Senate with the sweep and seriousness of its case, Mr. Ruff laid out the president's case in a clear, detailed — even emotional — way.

        “When he started off, it was almost that you had to strain to listen to him, and then he brings you into his thought process,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “And at the end, well, you could have heard a pin drop. Yeah, I thought it was really very, very powerful.”

House facts challenged
        Mr. Ruff also said what senators had not heard before, directly challenging the House on the facts of the case.

        Several Democrats agreed with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., that Mr. Ruff had “unraveled” the House manager's contention that Clinton friend Vernon Jordan met with Monica Lewinsky to discuss her job search after Judge Susan Weber Wright on Dec. 11, 1997 ordered Mr. Clinton to provide information on federal employees with whom he had sought sexual relations.

        Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Mr. Ruff showed that the Jordan-Lewinsky meeting took place prior to Judge Wright's order, which came on the evening of Dec. 11, “and it is a very serious problem for the House of Representatives to have presented this fact so erroneously ... on such a critical issue in their presentation.”

        Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., also said the House prosecutors hurt their case by not focusing, as Mr. Ruff did, on the specific grand jury perjury charges in the first impeachment article: “From Ruff's testimony it appears there is simply no factual basis” for perjury, Mr. Torricelli said.

        But Mr. Ruff's arguments may have had the effect of bolstering claims by Republicans that witnesses are needed to resolve factual discrepancies, both through depositions and live testimony. It now appears that the votes are present for the Senate to call key figures such as Ms. Lewinsky and Clinton secretary Betty Currie, senators have said.


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