You might think mainstream conservatives would be wary of Klayman's tactics. Tort reform was part of the Contract With America, and he is a one-man litigation explosion. But so far, conservatives have been silent, perhaps because Klayman has proved remarkably effective at abusing the people most right-wingers dislike. His primary vehicle is a $90 million invasion of privacy suit filed against Hillary Clinton and others on behalf of the "victims" of Filegate. Never mind that congressional investigators and Ken Starr have decided that the gathering of FBI files on previous administration officials with names starting with letters A through G was not part of a grand plot to harass political opponents. Klayman has found an opening to harass his political opponents, inflicting costly all-day depositions on Harold Ickes, Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Paul Begala, and many others.
In these torture session, Klayman rants and raves and demands to "certify" for the court answers that he deems evasive. ("What does 'certified' mean," Ickes responded to Klayman, "other than 'crazy'?") Klayman asks administration officials about whom they date, where they go after work, whether they were expelled from school for disciplinary problems. One 23-year-old White House assistant was interrogated about a triple murder that took place at a Starbucks in Georgetown. Klayman videotapes these depositions, excerpts of which air on Geraldo when Klayman appears on the program, and publishes the transcripts on the Internet. This is in pursuit of a case about the invasion of privacy, remember. But resistance is largely futile. Last week, the presiding judge in the case sanctioned Stephanopoulos for not looking hard enough for documents covered by a Judicial Watch subpoena. As punishment, Stephanopoulos has to go through the ordeal of another deposition and pay some of Klayman's legal costs. The ultimate goal of the Filegate suit appears to be to inflict this treatment on Hillary Clinton.
Why don't the courts put a stop to this? Some judges have tried. In 1992 in California, Klayman lost a patent case on behalf of a distributor of bathroom accessories. His obnoxious behavior got him barred from Judge William Keller's courtroom for life. Klayman has hounded Keller ever since. He appealed the ruling, accusing Keller of being anti-Semitic and anti-Asian (Klayman is Jewish; his client was Taiwanese). After losing his appeal and being scolded by the appeals court judges, he tried to appeal to the Supreme Court. He has not given up yet. It is this matter, he has said, which led him to found Judicial Watch in 1994. The organization supports requiring judges to undergo psychological testing and holding them personally liable for "reckless" rulings. It also advocates removing Keller from the bench.
More recently, in a trade case in New York, Klayman found himself on the other end of charges of ethnic bias. When Judge Denny Chin ruled against Klayman's client, Klayman wrote Chin a rude letter asking about his contacts with John Huang and suggesting that Chin's being an Asian-American Clinton appointee may have biased him. The connection was imaginary. In our interview, Klayman claimed press accounts of this incident have made it sound as if the Huang-Chin connection was baseless. He said it was supported by a document discovered in one of his lawsuits. But the document, which he faxed to me, turns out to be merely a list of Asian-Americans appointed by the Clinton administration. Chin fined Klayman $25,000 and barred him from his courtroom for life. A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the fine but upheld the expulsion. "I've got ethics complaints pending against all four of them," Klayman says.
Despite Klayman's record of abusing the courts, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a Reagan appointee, has been extremely indulgent of his antics in the Filegate case, giving him wide latitude to issue subpoenas. Whether Lamberth has succumbed to Klayman out of ideology, permissiveness, or fear of reprisal it is impossible to say. Last week, Lamberth did finally throw out a fishing-expedition type subpoena Klayman sent to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. After Mayer reported Linda Tripp had lied about a youthful arrest for robbery, Klayman asserted Mayer had been fed the information by the Clinton secret police and that it was thus relevant to his Filegate case. It turns out, as Mayer wrote in The New Yorker this week, that her source on the robbery incident was Tripp's former stepmother--who has since agreed to go on the record. But Klayman still believes the White House fed the Tripp arrest story to Mayer. "She's not telling the truth about that," he says. "Were there Clinton private investigators working with her?" Maybe he'll ask his mom in her next deposition.