Legal team is `the face of America'

Click to follow
WHEN BILL CLINTON first came to office, he promised a Cabinet that "looks like America" in its inclusion of women and ethnic minorities. Six years later, while he may not have fulfilled that promise to the letter, he has appointed more women and non-whites to his staff than any President before him. And when the White House legal team embarked yesterday on the second day of the President's defence before the Senate, it was Cheryl Mills, a 33- year-old black woman, who took the floor.

She was the only black person, and one of barely a dozen women, in the whole of the Senate Chamber. Now Deputy White House counsel, she has served in the President's legal team since Mr Clinton was elected and is friendly with two of the key witnesses in the Monica Lewinsky investigation: Mr Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, and the suave businessman Vernon Jordan, who used his influence to find Ms Lewinsky a job.

She is regarded as devoted to the Clintons, and has attracted ferocious criticism from some Republicans who accuse her of misleading a House committee when she testified about the so-called Filegate scandal: the investigation into how confidential FBI files found their way to the White House and whether they were misused by the Clinton campaign.

Ms Mills is one of two women in the presidential legal team. The other is Nicole Seligman, 42, who was one of Oliver North's lawyers during the Iran-Contra scandal, and respected as a highly accomplished lawyer in her own right, with a rapier wit.

Adding to the impression of "diversity" in the Clinton defence team is the White House chief counsel, Charles Ruff, who gave the opening statement on Tuesday from his wheelchair. Mr Ruff - who, like Mr Clinton, is of humble origins - is a former Watergate prosecutor and lawyer for Anita Hill in her landmark sexual harassment case against the Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. He has been crippled since contracting polio in Africa in his youth.

Mr Clinton's team also includes two of the Clintons' Yale Law School contemporaries - Gregory Craig, who opened yesterday's session - and David Kendall, Mr Clinton's personal lawyer, a man of Quaker upbringing and dour manner, lightened with occasional flashes of ultra-dry humour.

But overall the group gathered round the defence table presents a sharp contrast with the rest of the hall, which is a sea of men of a certain age and caste, all of them white, and most of them greying in a distinguished manner.

There are only 10 women senators (out of 100) and no blacks, while the 435-member House of Representatives is scattered with black, brown and female faces. The 13-strong team of prosecutors from the House of Representatives, while varied in age (from 40 to 74) and background, is all male and all white.

However, the fate of Mr Clinton's defence rests with the Senate, and today's summing up will be given by a newly co-opted member of the team - the just-retired Democratic senator from Arkansas, Dale Bumpers. Silver- haired and distinguished, a reputed orator in the old style, Mr Bumpers is a senator's senator.

The White House clearly judged that if it was to win over the Senate, it had to field someone who looked and behaved more like the Senate than the America of today.

Comments