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All the president's men (and one woman)

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

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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.


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