"This was about him finding the buttons on my console to push," says Woodward of Hundley, who is now Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr.'s lawyer. "He was saying to me, 'You're basically a fair guy and this is not fair.' He wasn't saying, 'you can't Xerox the papers or I'm going to stop you from running stories.' "
In fact, these lawyers are often resigned about what shows up in the media. Privately, they will even muse that the truth or guilt or innocence is not the point. Their job is to keep to a minimum the toll a case takes on their clients and their reputations.
"The point of these big cases is to win, have some fun, get some attention and get paid. Simple. End of story. But don't quote me," says one attorney, of course, anonymously. He also said that most lawyers in this elite do not depend on scandal cases "for their bread and butter. Their billable hours are about the boring CEO or regulatory cases."
The fraternity has its frequent ritual gatherings. Members used to gather over martinis at Duke Zeibert's, a now-defunct downtown power restaurant, and more recently over skewered chicken and shrimp at Bennett's annual springtime party on his office rooftop overlooking the White House.
But no ritual is as important as an ordinary weekday lunch where lawyers gathered around one table can represent the scandals of several administrations. In that way, Washington lawyers are like Hollywood agents--only as well-known as their most famous client.
Recently, at a table at the Palm, Hank Schuelke, Dick Janis and Larry Wechsler, of the same law firm, sat around, jackets off, quietly eating lunch. But if you squinted past the creamed spinach, fried potatoes and grilled fish (an homage to middle age and good health by these tennis-playing and bike-riding lawyers), you could imagine a meal between Jimmy Carter administration official Burt Lance, Iran-Contra figure Albert Hakim and Clinton secretary Betty Currie--past and present clients of the firm.
So, how does an ambitious lawyer become part of the brotherhood? Publicity is one way. Experience in a big case is another. Growing up together in the law is yet another.
"You have white-collar lawyers from all the major cities who have vast experience, impeccable reputations and the ability to handle these D.C. cases," says Jan Handzlik, a hard-charging Los Angeles white-collar lawyer. But the best-known cases might best be handled by Washington defense luminaries, he concedes. "Local guys have the edge."
One former Clinton aide who has faced about as many grand juries as there are memorials on the Mall says that he debated hiring a skilled New York lawyer to represent him. But he settled on a Washington big shot with the resources of a well-connected law firm behind him. "Sometimes it was just gossip about what was said by another witness in the grand jury," says the ex-Clintonite, "but these guys pick up more stuff on the street or at lunch than you'd get at a dozen depositions."
Outsider Only Needs One Big Case
But it takes only one capital drama to turn an outsider--even a New Yorker--into a fraternity pledge.
Robert J. Giuffra Jr. was a 36-year-old associate at Sullivan & Cromwell when he was selected as co-counsel to a Senate committee that conducted weeks of televised hearings about Whitewater. From that he became known--to Democrats and Republicans alike, to the press and--most importantly--to other lawyers. When he made partner in January, his Whitewater nemesis Kendall sent him a congratulatory note.
"Once you do battle with these people you have some understanding of the rules of the game, and typically people who understand the game get to play again," says Giuffra.
But gaining membership in this fraternity is not easy. Which is why there are so few women--and even fewer minorities.
"When they're in this kind of jam, not many men want a woman next to them at the hearing table," says Nancy Luque, a former U.S. attorney who helped defend Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), the powerful head of the House Ways and Means Committee, against corruption charges a a few years ago.
The good news for women like Luque, however, is that apparently when women get in a jam they, too, prefer someone like them at the defense table. Thus, Luque was retained by Maria Hsia, a twice-indicted player in the Democratic campaign finance scandal after she read in the newspaper that Luque was representing another woman entangled in the case.
"I won't say I'm not part of the male club because I am," says Luque. "But I'm not the first they call."
Ultimately, there is a great awareness of the pageantry involved in taking sides in these cases and, at times, a great world-weariness with the whole process. But the power of these lawyers reaches beyond the politics of the day--and any one party or individual client. These lawyers are canny survivors and their fraternity is a permanent establishment in a political city that organically produces scandal and intrigue regardless of who is in power.