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Ex-Senator Bumpers Joins Clinton Defense

Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark) Former Arkansas senator Dale Bumpers. (Ray Lustig — Washington Post File Photo)

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  • By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 20, 1999; Page A7

    President Clinton yesterday tapped an old friend and political ally from Arkansas to bolster his defense team, turning to a Capitol Hill veteran with close ties to the senators who will determine his fate.

    Former senator Dale Bumpers, who like Clinton is a former Arkansas governor, took his place with other Clinton lawyers on the Senate floor as White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff opened the defense with the statement: "William Jefferson Clinton is not guilty of the charges."

    In Bumpers, Clinton gained the services of a Senate veteran who is liked and respected by senators of both parties and who is familiar with the traditions and folkways of that legislative body. A successful small-town lawyer, Bumpers was elected governor of Arkansas in 1970 and, after serving two two-year terms, defeated incumbent J. William Fulbright in the 1974 Senate Democratic primary, effectively winning the first of his four Senate terms. Bumpers, 73, did not seek reelection last year.

    Ruff said Bumpers, once considered one of the Senate's most gifted orators, will deliver the closing argument for the Clinton defense team during the trial's first phase, giving the former senator a chance to make the final appeal to the 100 senators, most of whom were his colleagues only a few weeks ago.

    Advisers said the president has been conferring regularly with Bumpers in recent weeks, noting that the former senator has urged Clinton to wage a vigorous defense in which he seeks outright acquittal rather than some form of censure.

    Even Republicans praised the Bumpers appointment as a shrewd move by the president's defenders.

    "That was a smart move on the part of the defense," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Give 'em a gold star for that. We like him, and he's a great speaker."

    "I can understand that," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). "He's a very effective speaker."

    Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) described Bumpers as "one of the most compelling speakers in the Senate. Getting Bumpers was really a good idea."

    In his race for governor in 1970, Bumpers defeated segregationist former governor Orval Faubus in the Democratic primary, an outcome that in many ways ushered in a new era in the state's politics. He was followed in the governor's office by two other moderate-to-liberal Democrats – David Pryor, who later served in the Senate with Bumpers until his retirement in 1996, and Clinton.

    Bumpers has remained close to both his younger successors. In a sign of their continuing ties, Clinton recently took time to attend a reception honoring Bumpers's wife, Betty, for her work with an organization that advocates nuclear disarmament and other causes.

    Bumpers was known in the Senate as one of Clinton's strongest allies. He was also known as something of a iconoclast, picking issues on which he would take a stand. His targets were frequently government programs, including defense programs, that he considered wasteful.

    "Certain senators seem to have an opinion on everything," Bumpers is quoted as saying in the Almanac of American Politics. "I don't like to get involved unless I have very strong feelings and am very prepared."

    Staff writers Helen Dewar and Guy Gugliotta contributed to this report.

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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