RSS
Meet Larry Klayman, the libertarian activist who could upend the NSA
The right wing litigant, who just beat the NSA in court, has a proclivity for suing the pants off everyone, including his own mother
 
And he'll sue you, and you, and you.
And he'll sue you, and you, and you. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Larry Klayman, founder of the ethics watchdog groups Judicial Watch and, later, Freedom Watch, is no stranger to the government — and vice versa.

On Monday, a federal judge struck a legal blow to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, siding with Klayman by ruling that the program likely violated the Fourth Amendment. But this was far from Klayman's first legal fight. The conservative lawyer and activist has a very long, very litigious history of sparring with those in power, one that has earned him a reputation as something of a thorny crank inside Washington, D.C.

As a 1999 Washington Post article put it, "Adversaries have described Larry Klayman as the sort of guy who would sue his mother."

As it turns out, Larry Klayman did indeed sue his own mother in the late 1990s to recoup $50,000 he'd spent on his grandmother's health care costs. According to Klayman, his grandmother gave his mom, Shirley Feinberg, tens of thousands of dollars to cover the medical bills, but Feinberg pocketed the money.

To keep the suit under wraps, Klayman filed it under the name of his collection agency, according to the Post. But when Newsweek stumbled across the suit, Judicial Watch went Defcon 5 in a bombastic press release, charging that the information in the story "was obviously dug up by private investigators of the Clintons" and was bring used "to suggest that the Judicial Watch chairman will sue anyone, and to hurt Klayman by trampling on the memory of his grandmother."

The fixation on Clinton was hardly random. Klayman became a prominent staple of the D.C. legal scene by constantly vexing the Clinton White House with various, dubious lawsuits.

One of Judicial Watch's first legal actions was a lawsuit filed in 1994 against then-First Lady Hillary Clinton over a fund created to cover the family's legal bills. (A court quickly threw out that lawsuit.) The group followed that challenge with myriad lawsuits alleging a vast culture of corruption within the Clinton White House over everything from Filegate — the administration's secret collection of hundreds of FBI files — to, yes, the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Klayman even represented the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez in a suit against the Department of Justice. And his litigious streak ultimately earned him a fictional representation on The West Wing as the thinly veiled administration nemesis, Larry Claypool.

The author of two books — including WHORES: Why and How I Came to Fight the Establishment — Klayman also has a penchant for peddling conspiracy theories. Most shockingly — and baselessly — he's implied the Clintons orchestrated the murders of several of their associates in the 1990s, a prime reason he has argued Hillary is unfit to be president.

"If she has a place to fill, the more fitting venue would be a prison cell, lest we not remember who she really is," he wrote recently in his regular column for World Net Daily, a publication most notable for propagating Obama birtherism.

"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," Jacob Weisberg wrote a decade ago for Slate. "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."

With Clinton out of the White House, "Litigous Larry" has spent the past decade or so making new foes and unsuccessfully running, in 2004, for Senate in Florida. Along the way, he's sued everyone from Osama bin Laden to Facebook to Dick Cheney. He even sued Judicial Watch after his acrimonious departure from the group.

In recent years, he's become a gadfly to the Obama administration, furthering fringe ideas such as the racist claim that President Obama is a closet, Kenyan-born Muslim. "I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution," he said at an October rally, "to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up."

With the NSA court ruling — Klayman told the judge of the feds: "I think they're messing with me" — he's finally won an improbable victory over the government.

"We hit the mother lode," Klayman said Monday, referring to the NSA case, and not his decade-old lawsuit against his own mom.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week