Washington lawyer Bob Barnett is the force behind many political book deals

By David Montgomery
Sunday, March 7, 2010

In "I, Alex Cross," the new bestseller set in Washington by James Patterson, fictional detective Alex Cross scans the ego wall in the office of a senator he's investigating:

The senator has hung photos of himself "with the president . . . the vice president. Tiger Woods. Bono. Arnold and Maria. Bob Woodward. Robert Barnett."

Robert Barnett?

"The senator," muses Cross, "was obviously a well-connected man, and he wanted everyone who walked into his office to know it right away."

The real Bob Barnett chuckles appreciatively when a visitor to his own Washington office cites the passage. Barnett is too discreet to mount an ego wall. He's as subtle as his 1930s vintage French cufflinks. At first glance, they are but slight dots of color -- gold, blue, red, depending on the day's shade of silk and pinstripe -- until you regard them under a magnifying glass. Then they reveal their complexity and craftsmanship.

To list Barnett as a signifier of Washington connectedness is like calling the sun a symbol of heat. This is good for his clients, who pay him $975 an hour, but Barnett's virtual monopoly on the specialty of helping public figures cash in -- on power memoirs, on private-sector jobs -- invests in one man a remarkable degree of influence across the political spectrum. The yearning to profit after a career in politics is an age-old Washington instinct, but the rise of Barnett's one-stop shop is a story not widely known.

At 63, Barnett is having perhaps his best year ever, as measured in political juice and cultural buzz. On Tuesday, more than half a million copies of Karl Rove's controversial political memoir, "Courage and Consequence," will land in bookstores. Barnett negotiated the reported seven-figure advance.

"When I left the White House, I needed to have a rabbi to help me navigate what the possibilities might be out there," Rove says. "Bob helped me maximize the process to my advantage."

Rove's book comes after a triple play of opuses by other Barnett clients: Henry M. Paulson Jr., Sarah Palin, the late Edward M. Kennedy. Due later this year are Laura Bush's book and George W. Bush's memoir, both Barnett specials. Gathering their reflections: Richard B. Cheney, Donald M. Rumsfeld, Tony Blair.

Hiring Barnett is such a predictable Washington move that when Scott Brown, the new Massachusetts junior senator, recently contacted Barnett about a book, the publishers had beat him to it: They predicted Brown would shop a book, thought he would hire Barnett -- so they skipped directly to the lawyer.

That's a lot of Republicans for a Democrat such as Barnett, who has done pro bono work on nearly every presidential campaign since 1976. In other years, Democrats have beat a path to his door: Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Obama.

"It is very helpful personally as well as professionally to have him by your side," says Hillary Clinton, who hired Barnett to negotiate the $8 million deal for her memoir, "Living History."

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