Bob Barnett, '71: Washington Superlawyer is the "Doorman to the Revolving Door"

The churn between presidential administrations is typically the sweet spot for Bob Barnett, the Washington superlawyer who likes to describe himself as the “doorman to the revolving door.” Outgoing White House officials, from the president on down, are ready to cash in with book deals, sign with speaker bureaus, become paid contributors on cable networks and negotiate potential corporate board and employment opportunities. And Barnett—famous for charging his $1,250 hourly rate, rather than the 10 to 15 percent commission that literary and talent agents typically take off the top—has been Washington, D.C.’s go-to deal-maker for this kind of work for four decades.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are longtime clients, as are many of their bold-faced-named former advisers, like James Carville and David Axelrod. So is George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and Karl Rove. Barnett’s been at the political celebrity game for decades, since he sold Geraldine Ferraro’s book, in 1984, for $1 million. He’s so competitive that his law firm, Williams & Connolly, waived the retirement age so Barnett, 70, could keep on chugging.

And on the face of it, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the intervening decades for Barnett, a wise man of the Washington establishment—always dressed in a suit and sporting his signature antique cuff links—except for the dollar amount of his deals exponentially ticking up. Barnett, now a local legend, appears to be at the top of his negotiating game even as the establishment he is a part of is being overturned by another master deal-maker, President Donald Trump.

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