For reasons too long to explain, I was rooting around the internet looking for
information concerning the mini scandal that surfaced in early 2001 about the
supposed vandalism of the White House by the Clinton administration as it
vacated the premises.
Concerned (or perhaps exhilarated?) by reports that he had read in the press,
then Congressman Bob Barr (whom you may recall had embarrassed himself on
national tv as a prosecutor of Clinton during the Senate impeachment trial)
wrote to the GAO and insisted that it conduct a full investigation. It did and
in 2001 released a preliminary report finding no wrongdoing. The Bush
administration objected to the report and sent the GAO a long laundry list of
comments (read: quibbles). When the GAO issued its final report in 2002, it's
final conclusion was the the Clinton folk caused no more damage than other
administrations when they moved out.
Now this two year study, which was motivated not by any governmental purpose
but simply to pursue a political agenda against a former president, cost the
taxpayers $200,000. Sure it's a drop of water in the vast federal budget, but
it's still a lot of money and it could have been used for some better purpose.
This brought to my mind the concept of frivolous government, analogous to
frivolous lawsuits. So it prompted me to see whether this guy Barr was
involved in the whole "tort reform" movement to protect our citizenry against
Sure enough, Barr was a big supporter of tort reform and a proponent legislation to put a cap on punitive
damages of $250,000. Imagine my surprise, then, to find that his commitment to hold down
punitive damages did not prevent him from requesting $30 million in punitive
damages from President Clinton and others in a lawsuit he filed alleging a
violation of the privacy act. Confronted by this obvious inconsistency, Barr
explained that when he filed his lawsuit, his legislation had not yet been
Uh, ok. But I thought that the reason you introduced the bill was because you
believed punitive damages were out of control, and if you really believed this
. . . Oh, never mind. Barr's request for punitive damages was not the biggest
problem with his lawsuit. It was frivolous. Pure and simple. Barr alleged
that Clinton leaked Barr's FBI file to Larry Flynt, who published some
embarrassing information (i.e., the truth) about Barr during the impeachment
proceedings. Barr's evidence? He had no evidence. He simply figured that
Clinton would have a motive to embarrass Barr, and since Flynt had published
embarrassing information, Clinton must have leaked the FBI file to Flynt. That
Barr's lawsuit was eventually thrown out of court. By a judge appointed by Reagan.
But that's not the end of the story. Barr filed a second lawsuit
against Clinton and Flynt, based on the same non-facts, but under a different
legal theory. This second lawsuit was filed in 2002, long after Barr had
introduced his legislation to limit punitive damages for other people. Barr's
complaint sought only $9.9 million in damages, so I guess he had taken his
teachings about limiting damages to heart.
The second lawsuit was thrown out of court too, by the same Reagan appointee.
Post Script. According to Al Franken's wonderful new book (Lies and The Lying
Liars Who Tell Them), The Republicans were so obsessed with their filegate allegations
against Clinton that they prevented him from increasing the FBI's
counter-terrorism budget because they didn't "trust" the FBI. This is just one
chapter in a whole series of blunders and politically motivated actions taken
by Republicans that seriously hindered Clinton's anti-terrorism policy.