Sunday, July 8, 2007

Fred Thompson: Hero to Rodent at the Speed of Sound

"Dumb as Hell." That was former President Nixon's description of Fred Thompson in February of 1973 when Thompson became one of the two co-chief counsels to the Senate Watergate Committee. By June 6 (15 weeks later), Nixon's opinion hadn't changed; according to a recent Associated Press story, Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt, can be heard on one White House tape explaining to then President Nixon that Thompson was "friendly," even if he wasn't very smart.

The truth about Fred Thompson surfaced recently as the Associated Press was reviewing Nixon Era White House tapes.

Sarah Baxter, a columnist for the Times of London, is blunt: Thompson was Nixon's "mole" in the Senate Watergate Committee. Imagine... One century he was a hero, the guy that asked the BIG question ("Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"). And Fred Thompson was credited with writing the question that summed up Watergate, that meanest of questions that Thompson's mentor, Senate Howard Baker (R-TN) asked former White House counsel John Dean ("What did the president know and when did he know it?"). Then the next century rolls around and everyone figures out that when Thompson asked White House aide Alexander Butterfield about tapes and listening devices, Thompson already knew the answer and asked the questions mostly so that his friends in the White House would know that the Senate knew about the tapes. Democrats on the committee when incensed that Thompson let the cat out of the bag on that issue.

Oh, and the Baker question? Some historians now thinks that it was originally intended to show that whether the president was involved in the Watergate scandal came down to the word of one witness (John Dean) against the word of a sitting President. Which was true until the tapes came to light.

Rarely do people get such a glimpse into how history will remember them. When the tapes were reviewed, Thompson went from being the tough hero who asked the hard questions to a rodent (a mole) at the speed of sound (the sound of those tapes).

Does Thompson play up his Watergate hero credentials? Sarabeth at 1115 Dot Org points out that:

To hear Freddie tell it, he was singlehandedly responsible for bringing down Richard Nixon’s house of cards. He was the “hard-charging counsel on the Watergate committee” who took the lead in revealing “the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office”.
And now we find out that Nixon's attorney, Buzhardt, spent days coaching Thompson on how to question John Dean because the Nixon White House wasn't sure Thompson was smart enough to carry that much water for them...

But in Fred Thompson's case the irony is that after decades of pretending to be the hero, Conservatives in America may actually like him more because they now know he "Carried water for the (Republican) White House," as one historian puts it. And the rest of America? Unfortunately they may well view the issue as being long ago in a far away place and not take into account what living the charade for so long says about Thompson's character.

I suspect that other character issues and conflicts will surface for Thompson as his years as a Washington lobbyist come under scrutiny. As one blog I read today has already pointed out, when it's all said and done, Thompson may go the way of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The LA Times recently reported that Thompson took money from a pro-choice group for his services as a lobbyist and then told them he spoke to John Sununu several times on their behalf when Sununu was White House Chief of Staff for the first President Bush. If he lied to them, he committed criminal fraud, the same kind of fraud that Abramoff is now in jail for. If, on the other hand, he really did lobby the White House for a pro-choice group, his status as the Right-to-Life candidate is in the crapper.

Thompson needs those conservative credentials; charm (and good acting) will only take him so far...

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