Starr's Fellow Traveler
Where Clinton basher Larry Klayman goes, the independent counsel
By Richard Lacayo
Even in the fang-baring world of Bill Clinton's most dedicated pursuers, Larry Klayman is in a class by himself. In just four years as head of Judicial Watch, the nonprofit group he founded and operates, Klayman has filed 18 legal actions against the Clinton Administration. Once a relatively obscure trade lawyer, he now goes after anyone he thinks might know something, anything about the skulduggeries he feels sure the White House is behind. Making the most of the rules of pretrial discovery, Klayman has subpoenaed such past and present Clinton insiders as George Stephanopoulos and Paul Begala--as well as such bewildered small fry as Begala's assistant--subjecting them to protracted depositions at which his questions are, to say the least, wide-ranging. (He demanded that one recent target disclose the name of his cats.) In his free time Klayman is also suing his mother, claiming she owes him $40,000 for nursing care he provided for his late grandmother.
His conspiracy spinning, together with his self-aggrandizing blast faxes to reporters--"Klayman looks to no one, other than God, for guidance and direction," a recent fax proclaimed--has won him his share of attention in Washington, some of it puzzled, some mocking. In the online magazine Slate, Jacob Weisberg declares that "Klayman is off his rocker." But at least one of Klayman's early lines of pursuit has been picked up by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, a man who has faced, and faced down, more than a few complaints about his own investigative techniques. Last week Harold Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff, was brought before Starr's grand jury to answer questions about how information from the supposedly confidential Pentagon personnel file of Linda Tripp, Starr's chief witness, found its way into the press.
It was Klayman who led Starr to Ickes. (Ickes, in fact, is the man whose cats Klayman wanted to know about.) In March New Yorker writer Jane Mayer reported that in 1969, at age 19, Tripp was arrested and charged with grand larceny, charges that were later reduced. Mayer also noted that Tripp had not disclosed the arrest on her Pentagon security-clearance form, information that Mayer got from Pentagon public affairs chief Kenneth Bacon. Starr got to thinking about Ickes because of news accounts of a contentious six-hour deposition that Ickes underwent as part of a Judicial Watch lawsuit. In reply to one of Klayman's many questions, Ickes said he and Bacon had once briefly talked about Tripp over a Chinese take-out dinner.
What Starr wants to know is whether anybody deliberately set out to compromise Tripp, his chief witness. Bacon and his deputy, Clifford Bernath--who were also deposed by Klayman, their depositions later subpoenaed by Starr--insist that the release of information about Tripp's application, which violated the federal Privacy Act, was an innocent mistake, not an order from the White House. Klayman is pleased but nonchalant about shepherding at least one target into Starr's line of fire. "Our goal," he says, "is not to help any investigation other than our own."
But his own cases encompass a very large patch. Klayman operates like a smaller-scale but even more freewheeling independent counsel, using civil lawsuits to go after Clinton's circle to its most outlying ripples. (He first got noticed in 1996 after he took a deposition from John Huang, the fund raiser embroiled in the Clinton money scandals.) Over the past year, his reach has grown considerably, in part because Judicial Watch received $550,000 in 1997 from Richard Mellon Scaife's Carthage Foundation (see chart). Scaife is the Clinton-hounding Pittsburgh billionaire who subsidizes Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., the school where Starr planned to assume two deanships until complaints concerning a potential conflict of interest caused him to change his mind. Scaife also made close to $1 million in payments in 1997 to the American Spectator magazine, which allegedly made payments to one of Starr's Whitewater witnesses, David Hale. Starr's office is investigating these charges.
When Klayman is in the mood for interrogation, it helps that one of his biggest cases is being heard in the court of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. A Ronald Reagan appointee, Lamberth has given Klayman considerable latitude to subpoena witnesses and seek materials in Klayman's "Filegate" suit, a $90 million invasion-of-privacy action against Hillary Clinton and others on behalf of former Reagan and Bush officials whose FBI files were improperly held by Clinton staff members. Lamberth has even ordered Stephanopoulos to pay part of Klayman's legal costs, because the former Clinton aide failed to search energetically enough for documents Klayman requested.
But at times Lamberth has been flinching at Klayman's scour-every-corner approach. Three weeks ago, he quashed a Klayman subpoena to New Yorker writer Mayer. Klayman was hoping to depose Mayer and obtain all her notes and source materials from the past six years, a give-me-every-word-you-ever-heard demand that sent alarms among journalists. Lamberth forbade the subpoena, saying the old material had no bearing on the heart of Klayman's lawsuit. "That's when Filegate began," is how Klayman explains it. "We wanted to see if she knew anything about Filegate."
As a guest on such shows as Crossfire and Rivera Live, Klayman calmly and routinely proposes the most outlandish conspiracies. Isn't it possible, he has said, that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash in Croatia two years ago, may actually have been shot to death? The crucial point for Klayman is that Brown died the very week he was supposed to be deposed for a Judicial Watch suit alleging that seats on Commerce Department trade missions were sold to big campaign contributors. "They may have sent him to Bosnia to keep him from being deposed," Klayman suggested. According to Klayman, that's not all "they" may have done. "The hole in Brown's head looked an awful lot like a .45-caliber wound." How it got there he can't say, but pressure from "the White House, Joint Chiefs, Commerce and Transportation departments" surely headed off an autopsy. Is Clayman suggesting that the White House had Brown murdered and then engineered a plane crash that killed 34 other people to cover up the murder? "We never used the word murder," he says carefully. He does charge, however, that colleagues at Judicial Watch have been "followed home by people [who are] probably with various government agencies."
Klayman says it was his early years working on the killing-room floor of a slaughterhouse that prepared him for the life he leads now. His family owned a pork-packing plant in Philadelphia. From the age of eight, he spent summers and holidays working alongside blood-splattered hog dressers as they turned pigs into pork chops. "You see people walking around with huge knives and livestock being cut up," Klayman says. "I guess you have to be brought up in that kind of environment to be able to accept and enjoy the challenge of taking on a force as great as the Clinton Administration." If Clinton's enemies need a happy warrior by their side, Larry Klayman has the knives out.
--Reported by Tucker Carlson, Viveca Novak and Michael Weisskopf/Washington