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Clinton Legal Team Commences Vigorous Impeachment Defense

By Peter Baker
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

President Clinton's legal team opened its defense case Tuesday with a scathing assault on the impeachment charges against him, dismissing them as a "witches' brew" of conjecture and "prosecutorial fudge-making" that do not add up to high crimes and misdemeanors.

Appearing on the Senate floor just eight hours before the president entered the other side of the Capitol to deliver his annual State of the Union address, White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff accused the House Republican prosecutors of twisting the facts last week and imputing sinister motives to innocuous events based on nothing more than "shifting sand castles of speculation."

"William Jefferson Clinton is not guilty of the charges that have been preferred against him," Ruff said as he began his presentation shortly after 1 p.m. "He did not commit perjury. He did not obstruct justice. He must not be removed from office." Two and a half hours later, he closed with the same flat denial.

Ruff's calm but stinging arguments in the president's impeachment trial marked the start of an aggressive, three-day White House defense aimed not only at more directly rebutting the evidence than during the House impeachment debate but also at unraveling the credibility of the GOP "managers" trying the case.

In a performance later praised on both sides of the aisle, Ruff maintained his characteristically measured demeanor, yet his dry tone belied the biting flavor of his remarks.

The prosecutors who addressed the Senate last week advanced a "simplistic proposition" in comparing the impeachment of judges to the president's case. The suggestion that Clinton's prepared statement before the grand jury was a premeditated lie is absolute "nonsense." The House deliberations were not a considered appraisal of the president's actions but a partisan "rush to judgment."

Indeed, Ruff all but accused the House managers of lying to the Senate last week. "Be wary of the prosecutor who feels it necessary to deceive the court," he told the 100 juror-judges.

Through it all, the managers sat silently a few feet away at the prosecution table. But within minutes of Ruff's leaving the floor, they handed out the first of eight fact sheets they would distribute during the afternoon to rebut the counsel's statements, mimicking the leave-no-attack-unanswered strategy of the Clinton campaign war room.

"He put the president's behavior in the best spin possible," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., (R-Wis.). "The facts and the law are against him. Our case isn't made of sealing wax and spider webs. It is made of testimony under oath. It is made of facts. It is made of law."

As Ruff opened the defense, the White House added to its legal team former Democratic senator Dale Bumpers, a longtime Arkansas ally of the president who has been urging him to fight vigorously and not make any of the concessions demanded by some congressional critics. Bumpers, 73, who retired just this month, sat at the defense table Tuesday and was greeted with clubby exuberance by arm-clasping, shoulder-patting former colleagues from both parties.

The White House tried to recruit former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, (D-Maine), to join its defense team, but while he advises from the outside he has declined to take a formal role.