Skip to comments.The Watchdog of Washington
Posted on 04/01/2002 6:21:12 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
What a change! Just a few years ago the Washington Post described Judicial Watch (JW) Chairman and General Counsel Larry Klayman as a "crusading conservative with a yen for hardball and a knack for peppering Clintonites with litigation." Since successfully suing the Bush administration to force release of documents from the White House Energy Task Force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, however, the Post and other establishment media have decided he is a national hero and public-interest "watchdog."
But Klayman, a former international-trade attorney who founded JW in 1994, tells Insight nothing has changed. JW's mission still is to pursue "a respect for ethics, morality and the rule of law the underpinnings of conservatism," he says. "People in this town confuse conservatism with Republicanism, and they're not necessarily the same."
Because of its willingness to take on both Republicans and Democrats, JW has gained new admirers as well as new enemies. Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a respected ethics group, praises Klayman and JW for their evenhandedness. "When the Bush administration came to Washington, I wasn't quite sure what Judicial Watch and Larry Klayman would do; I didn't know if they would be as tenacious and persistent against the Republicans as they were against the Democrats," Lewis tells Insight. "The early signs are that they are asking the same kinds of questions that they asked in the 1990s, and for that I commend Klayman, even though I don't always agree with him."
But aggressively going after Republicans has led some partisans to accuse Klayman of leaving the reservation. Judicial Watch "has totally gone Looney Tunes," opined a poster on the conservative FreeRepublic.com Website. Another hooted that "Judicial Watch is spread so thin now and has lost focus to the point of being irrelevant." This criticism from the right quickly was reported from the left in an article on Salon.com.
Klayman laughs and says none of his supporters have objected to his efforts to hold Republicans to the same standards as Democrats, noting that they expect JW to apply ethical standards consistently. Nor has funding dried up since the Clintons left the White House. With an annual budget of more than $10 million, JW employs 12 attorneys at its Washington headquarters. It has a popular national radio and TV show, and recently opened satellite law offices in Dallas, Miami and the Los Angeles area. The soft-spoken Klayman says his goal is to open an office in every major U.S. city. "We want to be the conservative, nonpartisan American Civil Liberties Union," he says.
Prominent veterans of the conservative movement and Republican politics tell Insight that JW does valuable work. They say Republicans should keep their doors open to JW, just as Democrats do with such liberal ethics groups as Common Cause, even when Common Cause criticizes Democrats.
"I have high regard for Larry," says Paul Weyrich, a longtime conservative activist and president of the Free Congress Foundation who has a close relationship with the Bush administration. "Much of what he does is brilliant. He goes after [President George W.] Bush and the Republicans when they are guilty of the same things on which Larry has fought and won cases against [Bill] Clinton and the Democrats."
As a senior aide to a conservative Republican congressman explained to Insight, "The bureaucracy is very powerful, and it's good that there's a group that can hold it accountable." As for JW going after the Bush administration, the aide says, "It's good that they're consistent."
This in turn helps JW when it challenges the ethical shortcomings of liberals. While JW sued to require the Bush administration to release its Energy Task Force documents, it also investigated and challenged Democrats who falsely claimed Bush stole the 2000 presidential election in Florida.
As the first independent group to gain access to Florida's disputed presidential ballots, JW found and proclaimed that by any fair standard Bush won the election. Klayman also criticized the report of the Democrat-dominated U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which claimed black voters systematically were disenfranchised (see "Disenfranchised Blacks in Florida," Dec. 31, 2001). JW charged that "by issuing a report written by Democrats only, [the commission] has undermined any sensible suggestions it may have had about the conduct of the Florida election."
Klayman voted for Bush and is convinced the president is a good man. "I like George Bush's basic instincts, which include protecting the interests of the American people against foreign oppressors," Klayman explains. "I like the fact that the president has communicated with the American people and has won their trust." And, even as he sued for the energy documents, Klayman disputed media contentions that the Bush administration is more secretive than the Clinton administration. "They [Clinton officials] pretended to be open, but behind closed doors they were falsifying affidavits and shredding documents," he says.
Klayman continues his work to hold the Clintons accountable. "We still have over 80 lawsuits against the Clintons and their administration, and we're dedicated to bringing them to justice no matter how long its takes," Klayman says. "Their behavior disgraces American history."
In fact one of Klayman's harshest criticisms of the Bush administration is that it is not investigating Clinton's misdeeds. JW's recent "State of the Union" report faults Bush for wanting to "move on" rather than pursue justice in scandals such as Chinagate and last-minute pardons given to contributors and clients of Clinton relatives. "President Bush and his administration moved almost immediately to head off virtually every official investigation of Clinton-era crimes," the report states.
Klayman knows GOP political consultants have advised that the country doesn't like bickering, but says not holding the Clintons accountable has hurt Bush politically. For instance, after the Clintons left, there were reports of massive vandalism at the White House by Clinton staffers, including cut phone lines, desks turned upside down, file cabinets glued shut and obscene graffiti. But Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "As far as we're concerned, it's over," and the White House did not document the vandalism in statements to the General Accounting Office (GAO).
After it was clear the GAO investigation had been derailed in the interest of moving on, Clinton supporters claimed this as exoneration. They then blamed Bush for smearing the Clintons with anonymous leaks and demanded an apology. In response, Fleischer finally confirmed that there had been vandalism and that every White House phone had to be reprogrammed because of the cut lines.
Similarly, Klayman says Bush could have made more headway on his energy policies if the meetings of the Energy Task Force had been open. "Because of the Bush White House's refusal to obey the law on the Energy Task Force and 'let the sun shine in,' liberal environmentalists now have a club with which to beat upon much-needed energy initiatives, such as the opening of oil drilling in Alaska's wilderness," the JW report states.
JW maintains that it is upholding the same principles of transparency that conservatives were fighting for when they demanded Hillary Rodham Clinton release documents from her closed health-care task force. "They are creeping into the Hillary Clinton stratosphere of wrongdoing with the Energy Task Force," says JW President Tom Fitton.
JW claims that, like the Clintons, the Bush administration violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires that government task forces with private individuals as members hold open meetings and make notes available to the public. This law, passed in the 1970s, sought to ensure that Americans would know how much influence individuals with private interests have over government policy.
The Bush administration has responded that the task force does not fall under the law and that the meetings need to be conducted out of public view so the president can get freewheeling advice.
Despite this legal disagreement with JW, administration officials have not attacked the group publicly. The same can't be said for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which raises money for House Republican candidates. After JW also filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about an NRCC letter promising donors "a special briefing on homeland security and national defense," the NRCC issued a press release saying "these individuals will appear solely in their personal capacity and are not permitted to disclose nonpublic information."
Despite this "clarification," NRCC communications director Stephen Schmidt blasted JW for filing the complaint. "Larry Klayman and Judicial Watch are professional litigants," Schmidt tells Insight. "They sue frivolously every conceivable type of organization, from the Baltimore Orioles to the CIA to the national Republicans to George Stephanopoulos to Bill Clinton, and the list goes on and on. These suits are routinely dismissed and not heard, and Judicial Watch is a huge fund-raising organization."
Never mind that frivolity is in the mind of the beholder, that the NRCC is a huge fund-raising organization and that JW lawsuits routinely are heard and produce results, say Klayman defenders. Or that Schmidt's criticisms of JW are virtually the same as those of Robert Bennett, Clinton's attorney in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit, who now is disputing with JW in a defamation lawsuit involving the alleged Clinton affair with Dolly Kyle Browning. Bennett tells Insight: "To a great extent, they [JW and Klayman] abuse the judicial system by, in many instances, bringing what are essentially frivolous actions. They're using the court really as a public-relations mechanism."
Responding to charges that the organization is too litigious, Klayman says JW always asks the party in question to cease the disputed activity before it sues. "We asked Clinton to shut down his legal-defense fund. He wouldn't, so we had to bring a suit," Klayman says. "We asked [Clinton commerce secretary] Ron Brown to stop selling seats on trade missions. He wouldn't, so we had to bring a suit. We asked Dick Cheney to turn over his energy task-force documents. He wouldn't, so we had to bring a suit."
Klayman pauses and then says quietly, "I agree that society is too litigious. Americans do not sufficiently sit down and try to resolve disputes. In fact, they don't even consider discussing them until you bring a lawsuit. That's our culture and, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way you can, No. 1, get people's attention, and No. 2, get results, is to bring a lawsuit."
Klayman often uses the pretrial discovery process to pry information from the government, which he then releases to the American people. When suing Brown's Commerce Department in the mid-1990s for information on the use of foreign "trade missions" to reward big Democratic donors, JW deposed a commerce aide named John Huang, and Huang's testimony opened the door to the campaign-finance scandal that came to be known as Chinagate.
"They may not win all their cases, but they certainly have gotten thousands of documents made available," says Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity. "Just the fact that there's someone out there who might bring litigation if you don't release the information is useful. Information is very, very difficult to get from the federal government. And the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to either the White House or Congress. When someone is willing to go to the mat with an actual lawsuit, that's helpful."
JW also plays an important role in getting the crushing weight of government power off the backs of internal critics of the federal leviathan. "As far as protecting whistle-blowers, Judicial Watch has been fearless, relentless, and produced results where other organizations didn't see any possibilities," says Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group. "In some respects, they've been miracle workers, squeezing the most out of the legal system."
For instance, JW has represented Notra Trulock, who blew the whistle on Chinese spying at the Energy Department's nuclear labs, and Sheryl Hall, a White House employee who charged the Clinton administration with deleting e-mails related to independent counsel investigations of the administration. When Juanita Broaddrick suddenly was subjected to an IRS audit after accusing Clinton of having raped her 20 years earlier, JW took action against the agency and says it has obtained Treasury Department documents showing that an IRS agent refused to take a lie-detector test about the motivation for the audit. The case was resolved in her favor last year, Klayman says.
Similarly, JW took up the case of underdog Katherine Prudhomme, a New Hampshire housewife, who was subjected to an IRS audit after she put Al Gore on the spot at a televised forum by asking how he felt about Clinton's alleged rape of Broaddrick. Again JW demanded an official investigation, and the matter was resolved in Prudhomme's favor, Klayman tells Insight. Prudhomme says, "I felt completely alone until I got that phone call from Larry Klayman, and it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had some friends out there."
JW now is making forays into foreign policy. Klayman recently obtained an indictment in an international court in Belgium against Fidel Castro for crimes against humanity. Unabashedly pro-Israel, JW asked the IRS to investigate U.S. nonprofits suspected of funneling money to Mideast terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. And JW is suing the government of Iraq on behalf of survivors of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in an effort to gain information from the U.S. government concerning a possible Iraqi role in the bombing (see "Iraqi Connection to Oklahoma Bombing," April 15).
Terrorism expert Stephen Schwartz, author of the forthcoming Doubleday book, The Two Faces of Islam, is one of many who praise Klayman and JW. "I think they've done excellent work," Schwartz tells Insight. "When you're on the side of the angels, there's no such thing as being too litigious. Litigation is the name of the game in America. We should all thank the good Lord that there's somebody litigious who's got it right. Having a great legal team on the right side is like having a battleship parked in your yacht club. Nobody is going to mess with you."
John Berlau is a writer for Insight.
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Most everything you need to know about how and why it is like it is.
Yep like over $21 million in expenses in 2000.....
They (the media) will promote him now that his Clinton persuits are out of the limelight. Maybe he'll even get on Fox News before it's over....
Hang loose as you'll be told about the lemmings, kool-aid drinkers etc before long.... and about Ron Brown
You are DISHONEST to link the possible murder of Ron Brown to something that you believe others will shrug off as nutty. You are no better than ABC or NBC, who linked it to UFOs, without ever ONCE telling their audience that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the MILITARY pathologists who examined Brown's body now say the wound did look like a bullet wound and he should have been autopsied. Nor did they ever ONCE tell their audience about the other pathologists who agree with this assessment based on photos and an x-ray that seem to support the concern about a bullet wound. Nor did they tell their audience about the missing beacon, about the loss of transponder and radio contact when the plane was still 8 miles from the crash site, about the 2nd survivor, about the lies of the AFIP management. Just like the mainstream media, NONE of you move-on'ers want to discuss the facts in the Brown case. You ALL run from it and Freepers should ask why before accepting ANYTHING you post at face value. As far as I'm concerned, you and the rest of the move-on'ers are just plain DISHONEST ... as dishonest as ABC and NBC news ... and as dishonest as you CLAIM JW to be.
Think of Lemmings running off the cliff to their death and you gain an accurate profile of these people.
Thanks, but no thanks. When I go on vacation, I go to relax, not to worship at the feet of a shyster.
I am just having fun imagining you and deport having a blast and partying it up on the next Judicial Watch cruise with your covert hero, Larry Klayman. LOL!
Judicial Watch 2000 Form 990
Media appearances and mailings to educate the public... 4,172,968
Undertake legal actions.... 1,240,262
Monitor and research government officials....... 161,293
I'm not trying to be mean to an idealistic young lady!
Watching out for the beam in one's own eye is a good habit to develop and maintain.