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Clinton Lawyers Know Firsthand of Defending Politicians in Tight Spots

Impeachment Hearings

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  • By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 8, 1998; Page A07

    The two lawyers who will defend President Clinton before the House Judiciary Committee beginning today both know what it is like to represent a politician who is in some degree of peril.

    For Charles F.C. Ruff, Clinton's fifth White House counsel, the politician was Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), who five years ago faced a grand jury investigation of his office's possession of an illegally recorded tape of a 1988 phone call by a political rival, then-Virginia Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D). Through Ruff's intervention, Robb made a last-minute appearance before the grand jury, which did not return an indictment against him.

    For Gregory B. Craig, the boyish-looking former State Department official who was brought to the White House to help manage the Clinton impeachment crisis, the politician was a former boss, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy was accused of no wrongdoing, but it was Craig who guided him through his perilous televised testimony in the 1991 Palm Beach rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith.

    Ruff, 59, became White House counsel last year and is a longtime and widely respected member of Washington's legal establishment. He was the U.S. attorney in the District from 1979 until 1982 and supervised the prosecutions of members of Congress who were involved in the "Abscam" bribery investigation. Before that, his jobs included being the fourth and final Watergate special prosecutor.

    Early in the Clinton administration he was the apparent choice to be deputy attorney general. But Clinton backed away from the nomination because of concern over Ruff's failure to pay Social Security taxes for a 71-year-old woman who cleaned his house. Ruff said then he did not think he had to pay the taxes because the woman was past retirement age.

    A partner in the law firm of Covington & Burling until 1995, when he became the District government's corporation counsel, the city's top lawyer, Ruff uses a wheelchair as the result of a paralyzing disease he contracted when he traveled in Africa as a young man.

    Craig, 53, comes to the task of defending Clinton with more of a political and policy background than Ruff. A graduate of Yale Law School, where he was a year ahead of the future president, he is also a certified Friend of Bill.

    Craig began his law career at Williams & Connolly, where he was a protege of one of the city's most famed litigators, the late Edward Bennett Williams. His cases included being part of the team that developed a successful insanity defense for John W. Hinckley Jr. after Hinckley's attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

    But the world of politics and government has now three times pulled Craig away from the practice of law, first as Kennedy's top foreign policy adviser in the late 1980s, then as director of policy planning in the State Department early in Clinton's second term, and now as a member of the White House staff.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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