Defendant-in-chief leaves it to lawyers

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The Independent Online
By Mary Dejevsky in Washington

AS THE Senate prepared for the second day of Bill Clinton's trial, the defendant-in-chief - as he has become known in some circles - was out and about demonstrating that his impeachment has not impaired his ability to be President.

Thwarted by the weather - an ice and snow storm that paralysed much of the east coast overnight - from travelling to New York to lend support to the Rev Jesse Jackson's inner-city initiative, Mr Clinton brought forward a planned speech to an international conference in Washington on "re-inventing government".

The portfolio for reinventing government was entrusted to Vice-President Al Gore at the start of Mr Clinton's presidency and is designed to convince Americans, often sceptical about the cost and efficiency of anything centrally managed, that government can be cost-effective and useful. While the programme has recently come in for criticism in the United States - as having cut staff only at lower levels and increased the salaries of inactive managers - the ideas behind it have attracted adherents abroad (including in Britain).

This week's international conference was one of a series of recent events designed to provide a showcase for Mr Gore as a hands-on political leader, a man of international stature and President Clinton's worthy successor at the White House. At another time, Mr Clinton's appearance might have been seen primarily as support for Mr Gore; yesterday it also looked as much like support for Bill Clinton. He looked tired and occasionally pensive, as he has during other public appearances recently, but gave as polished and well-judged an address as usual.

The President's latest public appearance came at the end of a week that included a day-long visit to Detroit for the motor show and a major speech on the economy, the state visit of Carlos Menem, the Argentine President, a half-day visit to the town of Alexandria south of Washington where he addressed police officers, and White House meetings - with trade union leaders among others - to introduce aspects of the State of the Union address he will deliver to Congress next Tuesday.

White House staff say that he has spent most afternoons and some evenings working on that speech, and that he has shown as little interest in the televised proceedings of his trial as he did in last year's hearings and debate in the House of Representatives. His lawyers and advisers, however, have been watching like hawks.

His wife, Hillary, meanwhile, has been less in evidence - although she was photographed dancing with Mr Menem, at the White House state banquet earlier this week. She is scheduled to accompany her husband on visits to New York State and Pennsylvania next Wednesday, the day after he delivers the State of the Union address.

Mrs Clinton's New York excursion was seen as supporting rumours still swirling that she might be considering running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Pat Moynihan at the election in 2000.

One of her engagements, not widely publicised, was to be host to Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for a private stay at the White House - a signal honour - on Thursday night. Mrs Clinton has actively supported the women's peace movement in Northern Ireland and attended a conference there in her own right last year.