W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 20, 2000 -- Charles Ruff, the powerful Washington lawyerwho represented President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky sexscandal and his impeachment trial, died Sunday. He was 61.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Clinton was told thatRuff had died after an accident at his Washington home. Details ofthe accident were not available.
“All of us at the White House admired Chuck for the power ofhis advocacy, the wisdom of his judgment and the strength of hisleadership. We loved him for his generous spirit and his keen witwhich he used to find humor in even the most challengingcircumstances,” Clinton said in a statement issued aboard AirForce One during his return flight to Washington after his historicvisit to Vietnam.
Ruff had used a wheelchair since contracting a rare tropicalparalyzing disease while teaching law in Africa in the 1960s.
‘How CanI Help you, Mr. President?’
After building a career representing powerful political figuresand, occasionally, their adversaries, Ruff was asked by Clinton in1997 to become his chief legal adviser. At the time, Clinton wasbeing investigated by independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr forpossible wrongdoing in an Arkansas land deal.
The investigation, known as Whitewater because of the name ofthe land development scheme in which Clinton and his wife werepartners, soon expanded to include his affair with Lewinsky, aformer White House intern. Starr’s investigation led to the Houseimpeaching Clinton in December 1998 on charges that the presidenthad lied under oath when questioned about the affair and obstructedjustice.
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Ruff said hisdecision to serve Clinton was no choice at all.
“When the president of the United States asks you to dosomething you don’t say, ‘Let me think about it.’ You say, ‘How canI help you, Mr. President?’”
Represented Anita Hill
Ruff represented Anita Hill in her sexual harassment accusationsagainst Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. He also representedSens. Charles Robb and John Glenn when they were embroiled inscandals and former White House aide Ira Magaziner.
As Clinton’s lawyer, he mounted a powerful defense of thepresident in his closing arguments to the Senate in its impeachmenttrial, accusing House GOP prosecutors of being more motivated bypolitics than what was good for the nation.
“I believe their vision to be too dark, a vision too littleattuned to the needs of the people, too little sensitive to theneeds of our democracy. I believe it to be a vision more focused onretribution, more designed to achieve partisan ends, more uncaringabout the future we face together,” he said.
Ruff entered the realm of hardball Washington politics duringthe 1970s when he served as a prosecutor during the Nixon-Watergateinvestigation. He initially helped prosecute President Nixon’schief fund-raisers for taking illegal campaign contributions andthen took over as special prosecutor in 1975.
In one of his final duties, he looked into charges thatPresident Ford, Nixon’s successor, had improperly used campaignfunds. Ruff found no wrongdoing by Ford.
Later, as an associate deputy attorney general in the JusticeDepartment, he helped prosecute members of Congress in the Abscambribery case.
Ruff left the government in 1982 to join the Washington law firmof Covington & Burling, where he earned his reputation for helpingpolitical leaders in legal hot water. He retuned to public servicein 1995 when he accepted a huge pay cut to take on the job as chieflawyer for the District of Columbia.
That job, he said in a newspaper interview, brought with itsatisfaction “that cannot be matched anyplace else in the world.”
Paralyzed in Africa
Charles Frederick Carson Ruff was born Aug 1, 1939, inCleveland, Ohio. He received his undergraduate degree fromSwarthmore College in 1960 and went on to law school at ColumbiaUniversity, graduating in 1963.
Fresh out of law school he received a Ford Foundation grant toteach law in Liberia. It was there that Ruff was struck byparalysis in his legs. The cause of the affliction was neverdetermined, but his doctors said they believed it was caused by avirus.
Ruff is survived by his wife Sue, his daughters Carin andChristy and his mother Margaret.