By Linton Weeks
Moving the quiet, low-key Kendall onto center stage in the White House war against Starr is significant, according to sources close to President Clinton. "This recent attack on the leaks," says one former colleague of Kendall's, "is anomalous for him."
Such aggressiveness is expected from Robert Bennett, the president's vocal defender in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Bennett, an attorney with the New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is a well-known attack dog who has been on TV to defend the president countless times. When the Monica Lewinsky story broke, Bennett told reporters, "I smell a rat."
Kendall, meanwhile, has labored in relative obscurity for four years, making only brief public forays to defend his client. The new strategy -- or at least the hope -- is that whenever Kendall speaks, people will listen.
Those who know the two men say that the tactics preferred by Bennett and those preferred by Kendall are dipolar and that their differing approaches to the president's defense are causing streak lightning at the White House.
Bennett plays down the differences. "He's a wonderful lawyer. We work exceedingly well together," he says of Kendall. "His life, like my life, is very busy."
But Kendall's life, unlike Bennett's, is extremely private.
The 53-year-old Kendall, who declined to comment for this article, has been married for nearly 30 years to Anne Laybourne Kendall, a Washington psychotherapist. They have three children. He's a dapper dresser who loves movies and books. He lives, friends say, by the book.
"He's a total gentleman," says former Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald. "He's discreet in a city where no one else is."
His law firm, Williams & Connolly, is revered for its reserve. The firm's founder, Edward Bennett Williams, set the tight-lipped tone for the company, letting employees know that the place to argue for one's client is in the courtroom, not on the evening news. But even by those secretive standards, Kendall -- and his colleague Nicole Seligman -- are poker-faced. "There is no communication with them. The whole team is closer to the chest than usual," says Steve Umin, a senior partner in the firm. "We recognize that's the way it's got to be. This is a situation in which people would be eager for any kind of gossip."
After being selected from a number of prospective lawyers, Kendall took the Clinton portfolio in 1993. Whitewater was just a trickle. It soon became a flood. He inherited the case from another Williams & Connolly attorney, Robert Barnett, who is married to CBS News correspondent Rita Braver, who covered the White House. Barnett says he withdrew from representation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Clintons already knew Kendall from Yale Law School days.
"I thought it was an inspired choice," Umin says. "He has the right temperament.
"He's thoughtful, well-spoken and doesn't go into orbit very easily," he notes, "unlike another lawyer whose name will be unspoken."
David Kendall grew up in a Quaker family in Indiana. He attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, about 45 miles northwest of Indianapolis, and received a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford in 1966, two years ahead of Clinton. At Worcester College, Kendall was under the spell of Christopher Ricks, a world-class scholar in English literature. Two years later Kendall entered Yale Law School.
At Yale, Kendall became friends with Hillary Rodham and eventually with her companion, Bill Clinton.
Beneath his demure, do-gooder facade, friends say, lurks a supremely confident man. While in law school, Kendall served as "Note and Comment" editor for the school's journal. One of his buddies, Ben W. Heineman Jr., was editor in chief. Heineman, now senior vice president and general counsel at General Electric, tells this story: The two friends were in their third year. They had passed the law journal on to younger hands. They had both been chosen as clerks for Supreme Court justices. As a lark they kicked back and took a course in federal tax law. They hardly studied.
When final exam time rolled around, the two students, Heineman says, had "done zero."
"We knew it wouldn't look terrific to fail the course," he says. So the two pulled an all-nighter, starting at 4 in the afternoon before the exam. He laughs as he recalls the scene, the "hot whips of panic."
"We were giddy, on the edge," he says. "It was a mood of grimness and hilarity -- federal tax in 12 hours!" The two passed.
Another tale from Yale: When Kendall was a senior, he and classmate Richard Danzig took the unusual step of applying directly to Supreme Court Justice Byron White for internships.
Justice White, recalls Danzig, a former undersecretary of the Navy, "was famous for intensely interviewing people, asking very hard questions." Danzig says that Kendall went down to Washington and interviewed first.
"He came back and told me all about the interview," Danzig says. "I had this immense advantage of knowing what was going to happen. I thought that was an amazingly selfless act and characteristic of his generosity." Both students were chosen as clerks for White.
After a two-year stint in Washington, Kendall joined the Army, according to a resume provided by his office. In 1973 he went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. (known as the Inc. Fund). He stayed there five years.
Over the course of his legal life, Kendall has argued for civil rights and freedom of speech and against the death penalty. The predominant theme, say those who know him, is a staunch belief in the civil liberties of citizens, an adherence to bedrock rights issues.
As a young lawyer for the Inc. Fund, Kendall persuaded the Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty for rape. When he joined Williams & Connolly in 1978, he continued to defend several death row inmates. One of them was John Spenkelink.
Passionately committed to getting Spenkelink's sentence reduced, Kendall became nationally famous. He lost his appeal and Spenkelink was executed in Florida.
"There is a part of him which believes in the classic civil liberties that individuals have," says Heineman, liberties "that cannot be trampled upon by government."
Kendall has other clients besides the first family. He also represents the National Enquirer (which has headlines this week reading: "Clinton: The Cheating, Lying, Dirty Phone Calls and Steamy Sex") and the National Review. In the 1980s, he was one of the lawyers who argued on behalf of The Washington Post in a libel suit brought by William Tavoulareas, president of Mobil Oil. The U.S. Court of Appeals eventually found in favor of the newspaper. The judge who wrote the majority opinion was Kenneth Starr.
Colleagues say Kendall delights in the diversity of his portfolio. But it is the protracted Whitewater episode that he may be remembered for.
"From a professional point of view," says a friend of Kendall's, "he's got the case of the century."
And, says Heineman, an ability to appreciate the moment. "His rather reserved appearance in the Clinton proceeding," he says, "conceals a rather wicked sense of humor. He has a funny and tremendous sense of the human comedy, which probably, with no disrespect to anybody, serves him well in these matters."
Says Umin, "I think any lawyer would enjoy the case. But it engulfs his life. The job carries with it a certain amount of suffering. What it has done to his family life I don't know."
So will Kendall be on television more in coming weeks? "I don't know," says a colleague who works closely with him. "I don't think David likes it."
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