In 2009, Jesus came to Larry Klayman while he was driving down Ventura Boulevard.
Klayman had found himself in a really low place: His client had just lost a sexual harassment case, which he blames on a judge he says had a grudge against him. Days before, he survived what he describes as a near-fatal car crash.
As he drove through Los Angeles, he was talking to himself, saying: “Larry, you’re a revolutionary. Jesus was a revolutionary. Jesus told the high priests to go eff themselves, and then he told the Romans to go eff themselves.”
Suddenly, Klayman says, he felt a tremendous feeling of positivity and warmth. He recognized the feeling — Jesus had come to him in a Catholic church years before and encouraged him to become a Christian.
This time, there was a different message.
“Larry, you’re working for me now,” Klayman says he was told in 2009. “You’re not like me, obviously. And you will pay the price — but I’m there with you.”
The story is a Klayman special — no hedging and plenty of righteousness.
For years, the conservative lawyer has taken on long-shot cases predicated on obscure legal theories. With the exception of a since-vacated 2013 decision involving the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of metadata, he’s lost more than he’s won. But his dogged championing of combustible conservative issues — and his tireless pursuit of the Clintons — has made him a bullhorn in Washington.
His critics see him as a racist, a frivolous litigator and a conspiracy theorist. Klayman sees himself as a modern-day John Adams in a fight for justice.
“I’ve intended to be the people’s Justice Department. I’m not going to sit here and pound my chest and say I’m the greatest thing that’s ever lived. But I will stick my neck out for what I believe in,” he said.
And he’s not going away.
Klayman’s mark on D.C. dates back to the Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBudget impasses mark a critical turning point in Biden's presidency Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results Virginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins MORE administration, when he founded the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch. He left the organization under acrimonious terms in the early aughts, but the group’s methodology — harnessing the power of Freedom of Information Act requests — is credited with creating a new form of weaponized information inside the Beltway that persists today.
A 2000 episode of “The West Wing” caricatured Klayman as “Larry Claypool,” a partisan litigator who ran an organization called “Freedom Watch” that stalked the president’s every move. Klayman cheerfully adopted the name for his current organization, formed after leaving Judicial Watch.
In a slate of pro-bono cases across the country, which include a wrongful death suit against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE over the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks and a failed attempt to represent Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Klayman continues his fight, though he recognizes that some causes have a better chance of success than others.
But he bristles at the notion that any of them are frivolous.
“I’m testing the limits of the law. Win or lose, I want to make a point,” he said. “You gather information along the way — even if you don’t like the result, you get discovery.”
When Clinton appeared on track to become the first woman elected president, Klayman was prepared to ramp up the attack-dog role he has embodied since her husband’s tenure.
But with the victory of President Trump — who Klayman has said could prove “greater than Reagan” — the lawyer, who comes across as soft-spoken in person, has pushed a pair of task forces aimed at policing the media and the judicial branch.
The so-called Leftist Media Strike Force targets the “evil forces of the leftist media,” vowing to “use whatever legal means exist to eradicate their sleaze.”
A second “strike force” is geared toward resolving what Klayman sees as a crisis of “judicial activists” appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton or former President Obama by helping Trump select “truly ethical and honest constitutionally minded judges who do not ‘cook’ their decisions and actions to suit their political and other agendas.”
Those judges, Klayman says, have abandoned the American people. And that belief in a corrupt system is at the heart of Klayman’s activism.
“I saw how big money had influenced my clients — and I took offense,” he said. “I believe in the justice system; I believe in people being treated equally.”
For his many detractors, Klayman’s track record has promoted anything but equality.
He has repeatedly advanced the false notion that Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen, filing an unsuccessful challenge to his placement on the primary ballot in 2012.
In 2013, he convened a citizens “grand jury” to “indict” Obama for forging his birth certificate, among other allegations.
In 2014, he sued the Obama administration for allowing the Ebola virus to enter the United States, supposedly to further terrorist interests against the “Caucasian race and Jewish-Christian religion.”
Last year, he filed suit against Obama, former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderOregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Democrats look to state courts as redistricting battle heats up MORE, the founders of Black Lives Matter and others for inciting a “race war” that led to the Dallas police shootings.
Perhaps his greatest success came in 2013, when a federal judge ruled that the NSA had exceeded its constitutional authority by gathering the phone records of Americans. An appeals court later vacated the decision, arguing that Klayman lacked standing because he could not show that his own records had been collected.
But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's original ruling remains one of the strongest rebukes of the program on the books. Following both the ruling and the bombshell disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Congress passed of the USA Freedom Act, which curtailed the program.
Klayman currently represents a computer technician named Dennis Montgomery who, after the 9/11 attacks, allegedly scammed the government into buying counterterrorism software that didn’t exist.
Klayman characterizes Montgomery as a whistleblower. Based on documents he claims his client has in his possession, Klayman believes that U.S. intelligence agencies have harvested the confidential information of more than a hundred judges and other prominent figures — including Klayman himself — potentially to be used for coercion.
His myriad filings have led to no shortage of critics, including Republicans. During the NSA case, former George W. Bush official Brad Blakeman repeatedly referred to Klayman’s “delusions of grandeur,” calling him “despicable” and a “bully.”
Most of his cases never gain traction — and, in fact, he has been formally disciplined in multiple courts, including separate lifetime bans on practicing before two federal judges in California and New York. In a 2016 opinion, a federal court of appeals noted 12 cases “in which Klayman’s ability to practice law in an ethical and orderly manner was called into question.”
But Klayman, 65, appears impervious to criticism. He will happily point people to a 2013 argument on air with CNN’s Don Lemon and The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin in which Toobin referred to Klayman’s “tin-foil hat paranoia about the NSA being after him” and Lemon ultimately yanked Klayman off the air.
Despite his many critics and his concerns with government surveillance, Klayman says he is not afraid — thanks to that visit in his car in the City of Angels.
“That’s why I’m not scared. I don’t worry about perceptions; I don’t worry about what can happen — because I really feel like he’s with me.”
— An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Klayman's state of mind in 2009.
— Klayman's attempt to legally represent Bundy is ongoing.
— In response to this profile, Larry Klayman wrote a letter to the editor.