Guinier shockwaves buffet Clinton: Another blow for President's prestige as he withdraws his nomination of a controversial lawyer for civil rights chief

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PRESIDENT CLINTON, who sought on Thursday to cut his losses by ditching Lani Guinier, the controversial law professor, as his nominee to take charge of civil rights in the Justice Department, found yesterday that the storm over the affair had deepened rather than abated.

Contributing to the aftershocks of the President's decision was Ms Guinier herself who offered a poignant and self-assured defence of her disputed views on racial equality, saying they had been misinterpreted by her opponents and by Mr Clinton.

Ms Guinier, accused by detractors of voicing support in academic writings for positive discrimination in favour of racial minorities at the expense of one-person, one-vote democracy, lamented that she had been denied the right to defend herself at a Senate nomination hearing. 'I believe the Senate would have also agreed that I am the right person for this job,' she said yesterday.

Mr Clinton abandoned Ms Guinier late on Thursday, ending days of speculation. Looking drained and unhappy, the President said he had not read the articles penned by his university friend when he nominated her. Now he had, he considered her views 'very difficult to defend'.

The President, who in recent days has shifted towards the political centre, said some articles were at odds with his campaign commitments. 'I cannot fight a battle that I know is divisive, that is an uphill battle, that is distracting to the country, if I do not believe in the ground of the battle.'

Mr Clinton may have spared himself the agony of Senate hearings that may have ended in the rejection of Ms Guinier, but his readiness to walk away from her will inevitably contribute to the impression of weakness and disarray. 'It makes the White House look awfully weak and awfully incompetent,' commented the Reverend Jesse Jackson. 'Lani Guinier was nibbled to death by cowardly, anonymous White House aides,' raged Roger Wilkins, a former Justice Department official and law professor.

The affair is awkward for the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, who this week endorsed Ms Guinier's nomination. 'It's time to move on,' Ms Reno said yesterday, signalling that the White House will move quickly to find a new nominee.

Ms Guinier did not attack the President directly, affirming: 'I respect the President. I disagree with his decision to withdraw my nomination.' But she contradicted his claim that he no longer supported her views. 'I think the President knows what I stand for, and I think the President agrees what I stand for . . . I think that the President and many others have misinterpreted my writings, which were written in an academic context, which are very nuanced.' Opponents of Ms Guinier had seized on the notion that she would support 'racial quotas' - giving extra weight to black voices in government.