Nut Watch

Politics and policy.
June 6 1998 3:30 AM

Nut Watch

First Larry Klayman sued Hillary Clinton. Now he's suing his mom.

Everything you need to know about Larry Klayman can be gleaned from a press release he blast-faxed to the world two weeks ago. The heading read:

CLINTON ALLIES BEGIN SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST JUDICIAL WATCH

Jacob  Weisberg Jacob Weisberg

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

Use "Friendly" Newsweek Reporter to Harm Memory of Grandmother of Larry Klayman

Likely Complicity of Clinton Private Investigators

The unhinged prose that followed responded to an item filed by Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman. Klayman did not dispute the fact that he is suing his mother, Shirley Feinberg. He claims his mom won't pay him back $50,000 he spent on private nurses for her mother, his grandmother, Yetta Goldberg, who died last August at 89. He did not want this suit to become public, but the Clintonites, he asserted, learned about it and leaked word to Newsweek. The final paragraph of his statement bears quoting in full:

Klaidman used this information, obviously dug up by private investigators of the Clintons to suggest that the Judicial Watch chairman will sue anyone, and so hurt Klayman by trampling on the memory of his grandmother. This is untrue, unfair, and outrageous! What is true is that Klayman will do what is right, no matter who is involved. Whether it means caring for his sick and dying grandmother who raised him, guaranteeing payment to her nurses, or taking action to make sure they are paid. Klayman will not shrink from his standards of ethics and morality. Unlike Klaidman, who wants to curry favor with Clinton administration friends such as [George] Stephanopoulos, Klayman looks to no one, other than God, for guidance and direction.

In fact, Newsweek did not hear of this lawsuit, which was concealed under the name of a collection agency that belongs to Klayman, from the White House. It found out from Klayman's brother, who volunteered the information. But the point is not just that this Klayman conspiracy is imaginary and far-fetched (Newsweek, which broke the Lewinsky scandal, is hardly "friendly" toward the White House). It is that, as evidenced by this and other paranoiac effusions, Klayman is off his rocker.

This became abundantly evident when I went to interview him at his Washington office this week. After attempting to ascertain whether I was a Clinton spy or worked for Salon magazine ("in our view, a front for the Clinton administration"), Klayman told me that "private investigator types" working for Clinton have been spotted "casing" his office. With darting eyes and barely repressed rage, he alleged that administration secret police keep files on him. He went on to tell me that Ron Brown was probably murdered because of what he knew about various administration scandals. Alleging the existence of forensic evidence of murder, he explained, "Everybody in that lab believed there was a round hole the size of a .45 caliber bullet." (In one TV interview, Klayman suggested the killer was "perhaps the president himself.") The Brown cover-up is the subject of one of the 18 lawsuits Klayman has filed against the administration. Another concerns the investigation into the death of Vince Foster, who Klayman thinks may also have been murdered.

In other words, Klayman is one of the fringe characters who has sprouted in the moist ground of the Clinton scandals as mushrooms do after a spring rain. But Klayman is not treated like a fringe figure. He has, by and large, achieved the mainstream credibility he craves. He is a frequent guest on such TV programs as Crossfire, Rivera Live, MSNBC's Internight, and The Charles Grodin Show (with whose twitchy host he seems to have a special affinity). Klayman is financially supported, praised, and frequently cited by the wider conservative movement. But he isn't just a nutter who gets right-wing foundation money and gets on television. He's a nutter with a law degree who takes advantage of the courts to harass his political opponents. How does he get away with it?

Illustration by Peter Kuper

The press elevates Klayman for a couple of reasons. On television, there are more and more shows that take off from the Crossfire format, expecting guests to represent strongly contrary positions. If one thinks Ken Starr is out of control, the other, ideally, should argue that Bill Clinton knifes people and buries their bodies in the White House basement. If these guests scream and yell, so much the better. Barking, however, undermines the pretense of a rational debate. Klayman, who presents a coherent façade while making wild and unsubstantiated charges, is perfect. With print publications, there's a different problem. Fine profiles of Klayman have recently appeared in Newsweek and the Washington Post. But the conventions of newspaper journalism are such that an "objective" reporter cannot render his own opinion that the subject has a screw loose. Klayman is described in such terms as "controversial legal gadfly."

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.

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