Fred Thompson is Dumb As Hell
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report
On his exploratory website, Fred Thompson boasts that he "gained national attention" as the "hard-charging counsel" who took the "lead" in revealing the audio-taping system in Nixon's Oval Office. In effect, to hear the actor/lobbyist/lawyer tell it, the Watergate scandal turned on the clever work of a young Fred Thompson.
It all sounds quite impressive -- just so long as you ignore the fact that all of Thompson's claims are demonstrably false. At the time, Thompson was actually relentlessly partisan and anxious to protect Nixon during the Watergate investigation. Indeed, Thompson admitted in his all-but-forgotten Watergate memoir that he engaged in blatantly unethical and unprofessional leaks, divulging sensitive information to Nixon aides at the height of the inquiry. A former investigator for Democrats on the Watergate committee summarized it quite well: "Thompson was a mole for the White House."
And what did Team Nixon think of their young helper? The Associated Press checked the Oval Office tapes.
Nixon was disappointed with the selection of Thompson, whom he called "dumb as hell." The president did not think Thompson was skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outsmarted by the committee's Democratic counsel. [...]
"Oh sh*t, that kid," Nixon said when told by his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, of Thompson's appointment on Feb. 22, 1973.
"Well, we're stuck with him," Haldeman said.
Eventually, Nixon expressed concern that Thompson was not "very smart." Nixon's lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt, agreed, saying, "Not extremely so."
Now, to be fair, does Thompson's humiliating performance during the Watergate investigation still matter now? Maybe a little.
He was a 30-year-old partisan lawyer who shirked his duties and undermined a critically important investigation, but that was over three decades ago. There's a statute of limitations on these mistakes.
That said, Thompson is still, right now, inexplicably touting his behavior as something he's proud of. He sees it as an impressive part of his c.v. Given his behavior at the time, that's just odd.
On a related note, we learned over the weekend that the pro-choice National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn. reportedly hired Thompson to lobby the H.W. Bush White House in 1991. Specifically, the group paid Thompson quite a bit of money to push the White House to ease restrictions that barred abortion counseling at clinics that received federal money.
Except, at least at first, the Thompson campaign denied that this had ever happened. On the one side, we have six people and documented evidence that Thompson lobbied for the group. On the other, we have Team Thompson, which insisted, vigorously, that the entire story is fantasy. It led the soon-to-be-candidate to address the controversy head on.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.