Books by political personalities aren't always written to be read, exactly. Barnett's clients often are writing as much to preserve their legacy or revive their career or change their image as they are to tell a story. Former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos tried to establish an identity independent from the Clintons with All Too Human, and Cheney, known for conservative cultural activism, invoked a softer image with two patriotic books for children.
"The thing about a book is, you have total control," Barnett says. "With a book, you state your case - it is your case and your words. People can then talk about it, criticize it, rebut it, but at least you'll get your side on the record."
Barnett uses political strategies to promote books. He once hired a political demographer to poll for receptive audiences for a new, conservative author. The book tour went to small southern cities and, Barnett says, the sales shot up.
In the slightly incestuous Washington world, Barnett's clients are often reporters who cover his other clients who are politicians. He tailors each deal to fit their individual needs.
"The thing about Bob that is so special is he understands who his client is and what the most important thing to you is," says Roberts, the ABC comentator whose latest book is Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.
"He'll say sit down and make a list of the things you want to do and the things you don't want to do," she says.
The books actually are Barnett's sideline. The bulk of his time is spent on corporate litigation for clients such as McDonald's Corp., General Electric and Deutsche Bank. He also helps former government officials negotiate jobs in the private sector and brokers TV contracts for top correspondents, including his wife, Rita Braver of CBS.
Barnett is a multi-tasker who says he does most of his reading while watching TV and power-walking on his treadmill.
"My only serious exercise is mood swings," he says.
When asked what he reads for fun, he replies, "My clients."
Barnett has witnessed many of the Clintons' ups and downs. He was called to testify before a Senate subcommittee and a grand jury over the handling of files belonging to Vincent Foster, the White House deputy counsel who killed himself in 1993. In Living History, the former first lady describes Barnett trying to get her to accept the possibility that her husband might indeed have had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He recused himself from the Clintons' legal affairs during the first term after his wife was assigned to cover the White House.
Today, as Clinton's adviser in the post-presidential job market, his skills are measured as much in which offers never draw attention as which ones do. Hundreds of companies have asked to get Clinton to pitch their products on TV, for example, but the bad ideas died with Barnett and are buried in three file drawers in his office.
"These are offers for every kind of thing you could imagine," he says. "But I can't say what."
Barnett keeps his clients this way, by offering and revoking great gossip at the same time. One can only imagine what the discreet consigliere wouldn't say if he ever signed his two fantasy clients - Queen Elizabeth II and Barbra Streisand.
"People wouldn't come to me," he says, "if they thought they couldn't trust me."
What: Bill Clinton signing copies of his memoir, My Life, in Washington
When: 12:30 today at Politics & Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Admission: All tickets, which are required for entry, have already been distributed.
When: 4 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Barnes & Noble, 555 12th St. N.W.
Admission: 1,000 wristbands will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 8 a.m. Wristband-wearers must then get in line at the store, no later than noon.