Bob Bennett, Washington's Super-Lawyer, Shares His Stories

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When Washington super-lawyer, hambone, raconteur, and author Bob Bennett speaks, self-deprecation and name-dropping are effortlessly mixed. A tale about his losing 9-0 in the Supreme Court includes a reference to "my friend" John Roberts, now the chief justice.


Of everything he's done, he'll most be remembered for his defense of President Clinton from Paula Jones's lawsuit.
A number of his anecdotes from that "stupid case" are entertaining, if innocuous:

President Clinton had to interrupt his conversation with his lawyer in order to get back to dealing with Iraq, just as Bennett had to interrupt the same conversation to confer with the judge.

On Clinton's relationships with the media: "Because of the sexual nature of all of this, he decided his White House communications office was not the person to be dealing with all of this. And that was the hardest part. ... The case itself was pretty simple. Dealing with you all was very difficult. You had a hundred, two hundred calls a day from all over the world."

On how Bennett was teased by a steward for locking his car when he parked it on the White House ground:

On Clinton, Bennett said that he can't excuse the former president's "behavior" but said that Clinton's ability to "compartmentalize" things was amazing and very lucky for the country:

Bennett is part of what Fallows called the "great culture of Washington lawyers."

Bennett said he thinks that culture is "dying." (An aside: He once represented Clark Clifford, another super-lawyer. This was his toughest case, he says.)

"You sort of have a wiring document in your head about how things work. If you don't live in this town for 50 years, you don't really know how it works."

His work to get a pardon on behalf of Cap Weinberger proves that good lawyering cannot be separated from good politics.

"I knew that [President George H.W.] Bush would like to do it but this is Washington, and he'd have all these aides saying he can't do it [because Democrats would completely flip out]. I knew I had to convince the White House, the general counsel, like Boyden Gray, that this would be a two-day story. Well, how do you do that? You get surrogates. And I don't know if I could pull that off today because of the toxic atmosphere. Through one of my senator friends, we approached [Democratic House] Speaker Foley and we got an understanding from Foley along these lines: 'Look, I've got to bash him ... but they won't be really hard shots and they won't last more than a few days.'"

So Bennett, essentially, made the case by scripting the opposition in a way that would not be politically toxic to then-President Bush.


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Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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