Robert S. Bennett, Esq.
Oral History Text & Documentation
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Oral History Summary
Robert S. Bennett on Representing the President
by Steven A. Steinbach
Based on Robert S. Bennett’s Oral History for the D.C. Circuit Historical Society
In a long, distinguished resume filled with many litigation highlights, one entry doubtless stands out: the representation of the President of the United States. Robert Bennett’s counsel was sought by President Bill Clinton in the lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones. Despite the obviously unique, challenging, and public nature of the assignment, for Bennett the matter was fundamentally no different than any other. “I treated him like I would treat any other client in terms of a case. And I didn’t say, ‘Gee, this is the President, I have to treat him differently.’ I did not treat him differently – [except] I began every conversation with ‘Mr. President.’” Still, for Bennett, “[i]t was very exciting. I’d have to pinch myself sometimes. Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn.”
In the course of his representation, Bennett appeared before the Supreme Court on behalf of Clinton, urging the Justices to defer proceedings in the civil lawsuit against the president until the completion of his term in office. Bennett came away from the oral argument “well pleased,” convinced that things had gone “very, very well.” Indeed, “I thought it would be nine-nothing.” Of course, the decision in Clinton v. Jones was unanimous – but against the president, as the Court concluded (perhaps infamously) that a president’s active participation in civil litigation would not unduly distract from performance of his official duties. But says Bennett: “I believe that they made a fundamental mistake. I believe they really believed that this would not seriously interfere with the conduct of the Presidency. . . . That was just wrong.”
Bennett was brought into the Clinton proceedings in part to handle media relations. Serving as a spokesperson for the president on a variety of legal issues “placed enormous pressure and stress on me because, if you say something and it’s not quite right, there are immediate consequences to the President.” As Bennett observes, “It’s always best in your cases if you never have to talk to the press. That’s my ideal, but when you represent the President, that is just impossible. . . . You can say ‘No comment’ in lots of cases, but you can’t when you are representing the President of the United States.”
President Clinton was far from the only prominent client who sought legal advice and assistance from Bennett. Over the course of his storied career, Bennett has represented Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, Washington sage and superlawyer Clark Clifford, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (“the most outrageous prosecution I’ve ever been involved with”), among other public figures, along with the Catholic Church and the U.S. Olympic Committee. He also served as special counsel to the United States Senate in its ethics investigation of several senators regarding their role in the Charles Keating financial scandal.
In his oral history, taken for the D.C. Circuit Historical Society by David E. Birenbaum, Bennett traces his path from a boyhood in Brooklyn – to college and law school at Georgetown (where he worked, on the side, for legendary attorney and FDR advisor Tommy “The Cork” Corcoran) – to the United States Attorney’s Office in Washington (“some of the greatest years of my life”) – to private practice. What explains Bennett’s extraordinary career? “I work hard. I have had a lot of great lawyers helping me, and I have been very lucky. . . . If I can make it, lots of people can make it.”
Robert S. Bennett (Senior Counsel, Schertler & Onorato, LLP) is a former federal prosecutor and a leading member of the defense bar. Mr. Bennett is renowned in his field as an exceptional trial lawyer who has handled numerous high profile cases and has represented corporations and individuals, including corporate directors and officers, in criminal, civil, SEC enforcement, and congressional matters. Mr. Bennett has been listed repeatedly in various publications as one of the nation’s most influential and successful litigators.
Mr. Bennett regularly represents large companies in high-profile criminal investigations and complex civil actions, such as Enron, HealthSouth, KPMG, and BNP Paribas. He also represents individuals in high-profile matters and has successfully represented two former Secretaries of Defense, Clark Clifford (Democrat) and Caspar Weinberger (Republican). He was President Clinton’s personal lawyer in the Paula Jones case, and he represented New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the CIA leak investigation.
Mr. Bennett’s robust background also includes representing clients before congressional committees. In 1981 and 1982, he served as a legal consultant to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding the appointment of Alexander M. Haig, Jr. as Secretary of State, and he has served as special counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Ethics in several major investigations.
Mr. Bennett advises management, audit committees, and boards of directors on Sarbanes-Oxley matters, and he assists boards and audit committees in conducting internal investigations.
Mr. Bennett has co-chaired several American Bar Association National Institute programs on the defense of corporations and their officers in parallel grand jury and administrative agency investigations. He has written and lectured on complex criminal and civil matters, and crisis management issues. He also is a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, an elite organization of the country’s leading trial lawyers.
Georgetown University Law Center
Harvard Law School
District of Columbia
- Advised on creation and structuring of corporate privacy office and implementation of data governance structure for Fortune 25 healthcare business.
- Served as counsel for large publicly-traded business in negotiation and documentation of multibillion dollar healthcare joint venture.
- Advised publicly traded healthcare business on multipronged response to several large data incidents.
- Advised large healthcare provider on structuring and documenting innovative arrangement involving genetic data.
- Served as privacy outside counsel to Fortune 50 healthcare services provider on numerous mergers and acquisitions.
- Represented Enron in criminal investigation by the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force.
- Represented KPMG in criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
- Represented President William Clinton in civil lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.
- Represented Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in prosecution by independent counsel.
- Represented New York Times reporter Judith Miller in investigation of CIA leak.
- Represented HealthSouth in criminal investigation by the Justice Department.
Awards & Rankings:
- Chambers USA, 2017 – Senior Statesman, Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (District of Columbia).
- Chambers USA, 2010-2017 – Litigation: White Collar Crime & Government Investigations (District of Columbia).
- Legal 500 US, 2011-2017 – Dispute Resolution: Corporate Investigations and White-Collar Criminal Defense.
- National Law Journal: 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.
- Best Lawyers in America.