Clinton Trial: Lewinsky and Hyde score in impeachment Oscars

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The Independent Online
As the US Senate winds up the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, and with it almost six months of Congressional drama, it is time to recognise some of those whose performances have delighted and embarrassed us by turns. For services to politics, to America, to entertainment and - of course - to themselves, they have no peers. `We return you,' said CNN after a spell from the Senate, `to our regular programme, Showbiz Today.' Oh no you don't, viewers said, we have been there

all along.

BEST MALE LEAD

Dale Bumpers

The recently retired senator, from the President's home-state of Arkansas, 73 and pleasantly greying, who drew on all of his rhetorical and dramatic skills to plead for his ally's acquittal. He struck just the right senatorial register, between his down-home recollections of Bill, his deep respect for his former colleagues, the anguish he felt for Bill's wife and family and his lawyer's love of the Constitution. It was the performance of his life and enhanced his own reputation and the Senate's. Too bad it was his farewell.

BEST LAWYER IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Cheryl Mills

A deputy White House counsel, 33, who was totally unfazed by being the only black woman in the Chamber. She was half the age of almost everyone except Monica, but rose to her role with the smooth passion of a seasoned pro. "A star is born", said the reviewers, and they were right. Ms Mills may have been on shaky factual ground at times, but she never showed it. Her ringing refrain, "It's those facts, those stubborn facts again", delivered in her soft, Southern drawl, will long be remembered.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN UNKNOWN (MALE)

Lindsey Graham

The 43-year-old Republican representative for South Carolina wins outright. His smooth performances in the House judiciary committee and impeachment debate marked him out as a new force. A former small-town lawyer, Mr Graham was that rare Republican prosecutor who understood bombast could be self-defeating. He also had some of the best lines. "Where I come from," he told the Senate of the President's nocturnal calls to Ms Lewinsky, "a person who calls someone up at 2.30 in the morning is up to no good."

BEST FEMALE LEAD

Monica Lewinsky

The 25-year-old Valley Girl turned presidential consort, the only Monica who no longer needs a surname. Her celluloid presence in the Senate convinced even the most hardened Republican of Bill Clinton's unerring eye for the fair sex. "Bright", "impressive", "intelligent"... (what they meant, of course, was "sexy"). She knew instinctively when to charm, when to act the air-head and when to deploy the techniques of legal hair-splitting she has recently mastered. She is the unchallenged mistress of the big occasion, if no longer of the President. But maybe she could have another think about the hair-do.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN UNKNOWN (FEMALE)

Susan Collins

Republican Senator from Maine, 46, in a close contest with her fellow Mainiac, Olympia Snowe, and Texan, Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Ms Collins wins because of the depth of the obscurity from which she emerged. Smart and above all, sensible - so sensible - Ms Collins dreamt up an idea that put her, and her state, on the impeachment map. She devised the ingenious "findings of fact" that would allow senators to put Clinton's offences on record, then vote for his acquittal. The idea was quashed - but she did present it very well.

BEST PLAYER IN MORE THAN ONE ROLE

Henry Hyde and Robert Byrd

A tie between the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee, Hyde, 74, from Illinois (right), and Byrd, 81, a Democrat senator from West Virginia. Hyde was exposed as an adulterer, but went on to spirited performances, wrapping together biblical texts, the Gettysburg address and a letter from a penitent schoolboy. Byrd carried off the epic feat of sponsoring a motion to dismiss the charges against Clinton as unsubstantiated, and a week later stating with equal assurance that he was convinced of his guilt.

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A CAMEO ROLE

William Rehnquist

With a proper sense of occasion, Mr Rehnquist, 74, the Chief Justice of the US, had copied the gold stripes on his black gown from a performance of Iolanthe, but remained himself throughout. More moderator than judge, as the impeachment trial required, Mr Rehnquist none the less handed down two landmark decisions. He enhanced the atmosphere of his court by allowing the senators to call themselves "senators" rather than "jurors", and he memorably ruled against the Majority leader's call for a coffee break.

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