Sunday, July 8, 2007

Not all would put a heroic sheen on Thompson's Watergate role - The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe: By Michael Kranish

WASHINGTON -- The day before Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson made the inquiry that launched him into the national spotlight -- asking an aide to President Nixon whether there was a White House taping system -- he telephoned Nixon's lawyer.

Thompson tipped off the White House that the committee knew about the taping system and would be making the information public. In his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir, "At That Point in Time," Thompson said he acted with "no authority" in divulging the committee's knowledge of the tapes, which provided the evidence that led to Nixon's resignation. It was one of many Thompson leaks to the Nixon team, according to a former investigator for Democrats on the committee, Scott Armstrong , who remains upset at Thompson's actions.

"Thompson was a mole for the White House," Armstrong said in an interview. "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was." ...

The view of Thompson as a Nixon mole is strikingly at odds with the former Tennessee senator's longtime image as an independent-minded prosecutor who helped bring down the president he admired. Indeed, the website of Thompson's presidential exploratory committee boasts that he "gained national attention for leading the line of inquiry that revealed the audio-taping system in the White House Oval Office." It is an image that has been solidified by Thompson's portrayal of a tough-talking prosecutor in the television series "Law and Order."

But the story of his role in the Nixon case helps put in perspective Thompson's recent stance as one of the most outspoken proponents of pardoning I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Just as Thompson once staunchly defended Nixon, Thompson urged a pardon for Libby...

The intensity of Thompson's remarks about Libby is reminiscent of how he initially felt about Nixon. Few Republicans were stronger believers in Nixon during the early days of Watergate....

John Dean , Nixon's former White House counsel, who was a central witness at the hearings, said he believed that Baker and Thompson were anything but impartial players. "I knew that Thompson would be Baker's man, trying to protect Nixon," Dean said in an interview. ...

"Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call Fred Buzhardt at home" to tell him that the committee had learned about the taping system, Thompson wrote. "I wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action."...


Some commentary on this story:

Hilzoy at liberal Obsidian Wings boils down the rap: "The very best possible spin that you can put on it is that the lawyer who did this was very, very trusting, very, very dumb, and wholly unprofessional. In this case, we'd probably have to add: very ambitious, and willing to put ambition ahead of principle and professionalism."

Lefty Mark Kleiman at The Reality-Based Community has low expectations for media outrage: "I'll bet you anything you like that this story, which says something truly horrible about Thompson's character, won't get nearly the attention lavished on John Edwards's haircut."

As for Thompson's e-mailed response to the Boston Globe about his activity as investigative counsel—"I'm glad all of this has finally caused someone to read my Watergate book, even though it's taken them over thirty years"—David Weigl at libertarian magazine Reason's Hit and Run fires back: "Unsurprising. Thompson's strategy is all about talking past the media to the Republican establishment, for whom being a towering presidential sycophant—he stuck up for Nixon and Scooter!—is no bad thing."

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