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December 17th, 2017

Insight

'Loser Larry' Klayman's genius

Dana Milbank

By Dana Milbank

Published December 23, 2014

'Loser Larry' wins every time even if others don't think so.

Larry Klayman is losing again.

The conservative gadfly, who has been suing presidents for years with little success, was back in court Monday morning, this time representing Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff famous for his immigration crackdowns, who wants President Obama's immigration orders to be struck down.

Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee to the U.S. District Court in Washington, was unimpressed. Over an hour, she smiled patiently at Klayman, arched her eyebrows, squinted and shook her head at his arguments, and stared at the ceiling in exasperation.

She pronounced herself "confused" and "puzzled" by his claims. "That doesn't cut it for me," she told him, pointing out a "fallacy" in his case and saying, "I fail to see" the applicability of his argument. The judge further told Klayman, "You've got a big standing problem." And when he tried to argue otherwise, she replied: "I really don't find it at all persuasive. We can move on."

Klayman faced his near-certain defeat with aplomb. He asked the judge to move "quickly" because "however you rule, it's probably going to the Supreme Court."

"I wouldn't predict," Howell said tartly.

"It will make you more famous," Klayman told her.

The judge smiled. "I think in this room you're probably the most famous."

No doubt. How many lawsuits has Klayman filed?

"Thousands," he said as we left the sixth-floor courtroom together.

He revised downward as the elevator descended. "Over one thousand," he amended.

"Hundreds," he said, as the elevator reached the ground.

He was being modest. Klayman sues everybody — even Judicial Watch, the litigious organization he founded.

He loses the vast majority — even by his count, only 50 or 60 have made it through the legal system — and has compiled a record my Post colleague David Montgomery described as "incalculably terrible."

But winning isn't the only thing for Klayman — or much of anything. He uses litigation as a press strategy: His lawsuits allow him to uncover documents and depose officials, which makes news and gets him headlines. "You report more when I file a lawsuit," Klayman explained. "It's like a prizefight."

Among his fights: going after the Clinton administration on "Filegate," the Bush administration for its energy task force, and the Obama administration for its NSA eavesdropping and now its immigration policy. If Howell's treatment of Klayman in Monday's hearing is any indication, the legal challenge to the immigration orders is going nowhere.

"Does your honor have any time limitations?" he asked.

"None," the judge said warily.

This delighted Klayman, who had requested the oral argument. But Howell did have patience limitations. She quickly pointed out that Klayman's brief made accidental reference to "unlawful surveillance" — which means he cut and pasted his argument from his other lawsuit, on the NSA.

"We borrowed from an earlier brief," Klayman admitted. "We filed a correction."

Klayman tried to read a long passage from an Obama speech on executive power. "I heard that speech," Howell told him. "You don't need to repeat the whole thing." Instead, she began to pepper him with questions, to which he responded with a series of non sequiturs.

The judge asked how Arpaio could have standing in the case if the supposed injury — death threats against him — predates the executive order. Klayman answered with a speech about how Arpaio is a "client as well as a friend."

Howell asked how Klayman could show "irreparable harm" if he waited until now to challenge one Obama order issued in early 2012. Klayman answered with a speech about how Obama is "not an emperor."

Howell asked Klayman why she should intervene on the executive orders. "Doesn't Congress have the power to step in?"

Klayman wandered into an assertion that under Obama's executive orders, illegal immigrants "can get the right to vote." Howell raised her eyebrows, and Klayman rescinded the allegation.

She asked him about similar actions by other presidents. "I'm not sure," the lawyer conceded. "I haven't studied the prior ones."

Klayman's arguments were all over the lot, and at one point he complained about a $465 fee undocumented immigrants must pay to get "amnesty." The judge's droll response: "I take it you're not here on behalf of undocumented immigrants?"

No, Klayman was there for himself. He spoke about his libertarian views. He recalled his days as a Justice Department lawyer. He mentioned that his brother was in the room and said, "I wish he could come up here to testify."

Howell looked at the clock. "You have anything further?" Klayman did have another thing, and another, and another. Finally, he went silent.

"I think it went well," Klayman said as he left the scene of his legal massacre. For his purposes, it probably did.

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Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation's capital.

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