The Other Pit Bull on Clinton's Heel
Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch attracts media attention - and even Kenneth Starr.
WASHINGTON — Washington lawyer Larry Klayman and special prosecutor Kenneth Starr have this much in common: They have latched onto the president's alleged misdeeds with the tenacity of a pit bull.
But someday, Mr. Starr will finish his investigation, write up his findings in a report to Congress, and snap his briefcase shut. With Mr. Klayman, a former Justice Department attorney, one has the feeling he'll never quit.
Klayman, the self-appointed leader of a conservative watchdog group, has carved out a niche as a crusader against government corruption - and against the Clinton White House in particular. Alternately praised for "doing the Lord's work in the devil's city" or condemned as a media-hungry opportunist "harassing people in positions of authority," Klayman and his cadre of legal sharpshooters at Judicial Watch turn up enough tidbits to help feed the contingent of anti-Clinton forces on the far right.
Currently he is pursuing at least 15 cases against the Clinton administration, using a strategy that gives Klayman the power to subpoena official documents and summon White House officials to court to answer his questions.
To the White House, Klayman is nothing more than a nuisance. But on occasion, his findings have spotlighted serious issues - attracting the attention of the media and even Starr.
This year, a parade of current and former administration officials have testified at the huge round table in Klayman's deposition room, as Judicial Watch sniffs at everything from campaign donations by foreigners, to missing FBI files, to the possible selling of airplane seats on Commerce trade missions.
Defending itself against Klayman costs the administration time and money. The Commerce Department, complying with a Klayman request, dug up more than 250,000 documents to give him. For the FBI files case (in which Republicans' files mysteriously ended up in the Clinton White House), the administration usually sends two lawyers to every Klayman deposition. Among the White House power players who've testified in that case are Clinton adviser James Carville, presidential counselor Paul Begala, and former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes.
The White House refuses to talk about Klayman. It's understandable why: Mr. Begala, for instance, was hit with a subpoena after he told a joke about the FBI files in a speech.
From time to time, Judicial Watch is out in front of congressional investigators and even Starr himself, who recently subpoenaed the group's depositions to use in his own investigation.
The biggest case Klayman is pursuing in court is on behalf of Republicans in the FBI-files lawsuit, expected to come to trial next year. About half of Judicial Watch's cases are not destined for court, but are filings under the Freedom of Information Act - and they haven't come to any grand conclusions yet.
STILL, underestimating this soft-spoken man can be dangerous for anyone on the receiving end of one of his subpoenas.
When former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, for instance, appeared at a Judicial Watch deposition without documents Klayman wanted for the FBI-files case, he paid - literally. A federal judge ruled that Mr. Stephanopoulos did not conduct an adequate search and ordered him to pay Judicial Watch's legal fees, which Klayman says could be as much as $25,000.
The Stephanopoulos deposition also reveals Klayman's proclivity for straying far afield from what's relevant - a frequent criticism about him. There, Klayman asks off-the-mark questions such as whether Stephanopoulos ever got a speeding ticket. Klayman seems concerned, too, with what Stephanopoulos thinks of him, asking: "You don't care about me? Do you consider me to be less than human?"
While Klayman doesn't have the name recognition of Starr, it's not for lack of trying. To get his message out, he regularly faxes his findings to hundreds of media outlets around the country and travels the television circuit.
Most of the money to keep Judicial Watch going comes from individual contributors, with a "minor" portion financed by the foundation of Richard Mellon Scaife, a conservative with an anti-Clinton agenda.
Still practicing international trade law, Klayman founded Judicial Watch four years ago to reform the judicial system. He describes the system as akin to a John Grisham novel, where the little guy is always the loser, and he calls the Justice Department a "swamp."
His motive, he says, is "very religious," and he's pushing for a Judeo-Christian "return to ethics, and morality, and the Ten Commandments." Klayman, who is Jewish, says he holds "universal" religious values and attends church with his Roman Catholic wife and baby daughter.
Klayman spends much of his 70- to 80-hour work week waging a "guerrilla war" against the Clinton administration, because, as Klayman says, you might as well start at the top.
Among his successes, Klayman counts the deposition of elusive Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, who was at the center of the 1996 foreign campaign donation scandal. Judicial Watch also exposed the Pentagon's illegal release of information from the personnel file of Linda Tripp, who secretly tape-recorded her conversations with Monica Lewinsky. And Klayman secured an affidavit from an associate of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, stating that he reserved trips on trade missions for generous donors to the Democratic Party - an allegation the administration denies.
Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way Foundation says Klayman abuses the legal system to harass people in a fishing expedition that has produced little of substance. "If you shoot enough bullets, eventually one may strike a mark somewhere. On balance, very little [of Klayman's work] has been useful," says Mr. Mincberg.
But Bill Hogan at the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity praises Klayman for "prying" information out of the government. Klayman's method of "getting documents on the public record has been a pretty effective one."