Ruff Plays Nice

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WASHINGTON: Annoyed by David Kendall? Bored by Greg Craig? That's why the White House sent in its cleanup hitter: Charles Ruff. Sober, wheelchair-bound and with a lawyerly manner just nonchalant enough to be credible, Ruff also brought the Judiciary Committee something close to an admission: Perjury in a purely personal matter, Ruff claimed, is not an impeachable offense. Huh?

Special Report "This was the first time the White House even allowed for the possibility that Clinton is guilty of perjury," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan -- "that even if the President committed this felony, he shouldn't be impeached." Not that Ruff went easy on Starr. But compared to Craig and Kendall, Ruff was definitely the good cop, the cop who could understand why Republicans were so upset. He set the exculpatory bar low enough that the House's less virulent Clinton-haters can now clear it if they want to. Next week, we'll find out if any of them will jump.