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Fred Thompson Hired by Pro Abortion Group

The big news overnight is the claim by a pro abortion group that it hired Fred Thompson to lobby the first President Bush to soften his stance on a gag rule.
Michael Finnegan broke the story for the LAT (although not before being scooped by The American Spectator):

Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as an antiabortion Republican, accepted an assignment from a family-planning group to lobby the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and several people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for the former Tennessee senator denied that Thompson did the lobbying work. But the minutes of a 1991 board meeting of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Assn. say that the group hired Thompson that year.

His task was to urge the administration of President George H. W. Bush to withdraw or relax a rule that barred abortion counseling at clinics that received federal money, according to the records and to people who worked on the matter.

[…]

Judith DeSarno, who was president of the family planning association in 1991, said Thompson lobbied for the group for several months.

[…]

Former Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), a colleague at the lobbying and law firm where Thompson worked, said that DeSarno had asked him to recommend someone for the lobbying work and that he had suggested Thompson. He said it was “absolutely bizarre” for Thompson to deny that he lobbied against the abortion counseling rule. I talked to him while he was doing it, and I talked to [DeSarno] about the fact that she was very pleased with the work that he was doing for her organization,” said Barnes. “I have strong, total recollection of that. This is not something I dreamed up or she dreamed up. This is fact.”

DeSarno said that Thompson, after being hired, reported to her that he had held multiple conversations about the abortion rule with Sununu, who was then the White House chief of staff and the president’s point man on the rule. Thompson kept her updated on his progress in telephone conversations and over meals at Washington restaurants, including dinner at Galileo and lunch at the Monocle, she said. At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson told her that Sununu had just given him tickets for a VIP tour of the White House for a Thompson son and his wife. “It would be an odd thing for me to construct that thing out of whole cloth,” DeSarno said. “It happened, and I think it’s quite astonishing they’re denying it.”

Sununu said in a telephone interview: “I don’t recall him ever lobbying me on that at all. I don’t think that ever happened. In fact, I know that never happened.” He added that he had “absolutely no idea” whether Thompson had met with anybody else at the White House, but said it would have been a waste of time, given the president’s opposition to abortion rights.

In response to Sununu’s denial, DeSarno said Thompson “owes NFPRHA a bunch of money” if he never talked to Sununu as he said he had.

The NYT and AP have picked up on the story as well. The first adds a useful caveat deep into the piece:

Mr. Thompson has also sometimes indicated that he opposes outlawing abortion. Among other things, he has opposed a constitutional amendment banning all abortion — something the Republican platform calls for — again on the grounds that the issue should be up to the states.

In a questionnaire that he answered during his successful 1994 Senate campaign in Tennessee, Mr. Thompson or his campaign staff checked a box stating that he believed abortion should be legal under any circumstance during the first three months of a pregnancy. In a televised debate the same year, Mr. Thompson appeared to tell the moderator that he personally disagreed with outlawing abortion. “Should the government come in and criminalize let’s say a young girl and her parents and her doctor?” Mr. Thompson said. “I think not.”

In addition, the Gannett News Service has reported that another questionnaire submitted during Mr. Thompson’s 1994 campaign contained a handwritten note that stated: “I do not believe abortion should be criminalized. This battle will be won in the hearts and souls of the American people.”

Thompson was a hired gun making a living lobbying Republicans. Trying to convince Sununu to get Bush to soften his stance on a gag rule would not seem to contradict his stated political philosophy and would only offend the most doctrinaire social conservative.

Further, John Hinderaker is right:

[A] lobbyist, like lawyers in general, represents clients. To assume that a lawyer always agrees with the clients he represents is not only juvenile, it tends to undercut the premises on which our legal system is based. A lawyer needs to be able to represent, for example, a man accused of homicide without being labeled pro-murder.

The story here, then, is not Thompson’s hypocrisy but rather his integrity. It seems that we are left with three alternatives:

  1. DeSarno and Barnes are making this up to hurt Thompson’s reputation.
  2. Thompson took DeSarno’s money but didn’t actually lobby Sununu, thus committing fraud.
  3. Thompson’s denial is a lie and Sununu is backing his play with a lie of his own.

Ed Morrissey seems to think the first option is most likely or, at worst, some variation of the second. Now, I don’t know anything about DeSarno and Barnes. Still, it makes no sense for them to put their credibility on the line over something that could be rather easily falsified, especially this early in the process. Why try to derail Thompson before he’s even announced his candidacy? Wouldn’t it be more useful to sling mud later?

As Marc Ambinder puts it, “Which is more credible? Fred Thompson denying that he ever departed from the pro-life orthodoxy? Or literally a half dozen questionnaires, news accounts, and numerous eye-witnesses who insist he did?”

And the notion that Thompson was just a meet-and-greet guy used by the firm to draw in business while peons did the grunt work would be plausible enough were it not for DeSarno’s very explicit descriptions of numerous meetings and conversations with Thompson wherein he recounted his personal lobbying of Sununu. She’s right: It makes no sense for her to make that up out of whole cloth. So, if those conversations took place and yet Thompson is telling the truth now, he is an incredibly unethical attorney and should face censure. (Presumably, the statute of limitations would have run out by now on criminal charges.)

That would seem to leave Option 3. The only glitch there, really, is Sununu. Why would Sununu lie to protect Thompson, to whom he presumably owes nothing? It’s difficult to imagine him serving in a Thompson administration. Further, he was presumably contacted early enough in the process not to have had time to coordinate lies with the Thompson campaign.

It’s all quite bizarre. Perhaps there’s some Option 4 I’m missing. If not, and he can’t somehow prove that, as wildly implausible as it seems, Option 1 is correct (Dan Riehl suggests some places to look), I don’t see how he can be president.

And Kevin Drum is likely right, too: “[T]his is probably just the beginning of ol’ Fred’s troubles. Anyone can look good before the national media starts rooting around and asking touchy questions, but those days are fading fast for Thompson.”

UPDATE: See Thompson Abortion Lobbying Story Has Holes for some important updates.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Theo p says:

    If those are the three alternatives (which they are not) I would go with # 1. Lets see 15 years ago the abortion advocate remembers in detail all these discussions and the restaurants they were held at and then is compelled to say if I were making this up how come I have so much detail. That is a dead give away. The most likely scenario if I had to guess is the abortion advocate is making up the details and grossly exaggerating anything done for the group by Thompson, if anything at all. If he did anything fifteen years ago I am not surprised he doesn’t remember it and the easy answer is “I was representing this group as an attorney and obviously don’t share their desire to maximize abortion in America” so why would he deny working for them if he remembered working for them. The term lie is used way to much and people who can’t remember what they had for breakfast last Tuesday are quick to stick that label on other people who also have imperfect memories (ask Scooter). President.

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  2. stevesh says:

    I want to know when Barnes and DeSarno first heard Mr. Thompson say “macaca.”

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  3. Anon says:

    Is the comparison to lawyers really valid? I think our acceptance of the principle that lawyers do not agree with the clients they represent arises from our belief that everyone, even the most heinous criminals deserve legal representation.

    On the other hand, I don’t think we have any established body of thought to support the principle that everyone needs a lobbyist. :-)

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  4. Anon says:

    What seems odd about the denial is that there is a document, right? Also, there should be other records, like payments, etc.

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  5. Pug says:

    Further, John Hinderaker is right

    Are you serious? A lobbyist and a defense lawyer are very different animals. John Wayne Gacy was entitled to the services of a defense lawyer. Should he also have been represented by a lobbyist?

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  6. James Joyner says:

    I don’t think we have any established body of thought to support the principle that everyone needs a lobbyist. :-)

    True. But all Hinderaker is saying is that, like attorneys, lobbyists don’t necessarily agree with their clients. I know lobbyists who are Democrats who do their duty for Republican clients and vice-versa.

    Someone in Thompson’s position, presumably, has a little more leeway than those further down the food chain. Still, unless one has incredibly strong moral objections, one is expected to do the client’s bidding.

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  7. […] looks like he crashed into the abortion lobby. Did he lobby for an abortion rights group? Is he as ethical as all those tough guys he plays on TV? The lawyer and the lobbyist’s defense may be they are […]

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  8. Controversy: Fred Thompson was once hired as a lobbyist for a pro-abortion group…

    James Joyner has a definitive recap and link round-up at this LATimes-breaking story about Thompson’s ties to a pro-abortion group under the first President Bush’s administration.
    The blogosophere is going wild with this story. Here is a s…

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  9. […] say that the group hired Thompson that year. His task was to urge the administration source: Fred Thompson Hired by Pro Abortion Group, Outside The Beltway | […]

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  10. Grewgills says:

    I think Hinderaker’s argument just points out the moral ambiguity many see surrounding the profession. Republicans beat up every trial lawyer they face with the clients they have represented, why is it less fair to do the same with someone’s past as a lobbyist? I think that lobbyist might be a more resonant smear in our current environment. I suspect the more people learn about his career as a lobbyist, the less they will want to vote for him.

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  11. Stormy70 says:

    The people making the claims against Thompson happen to work for Hillary. Plus, his voting record indicates a 77% pro-life rating, and a 0 from Planned Parenthood.

    They are scared of Fred Thompson.

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  12. Sturm Ruger says:

    Before we dig a political grave for Fred, we should should demand the “family planning” group (an organization full of donors to Sen. Clinton’s campaign, btw) and the LA Tlimes (with its rather spotty record for accuracy) to produce some billing records.

    Otherwise, it’s just another drive-by media hit piece done for the Clintons against one of their political opponents.

    I lived in Arkansas for 20 years. I’ve witnessed how Bill and Hill operate and seen the many lives they’ve destroyed.

    Let’s see the billing records.

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  13. Billy says:

    Still, unless one has incredibly strong moral objections, one is expected to do the client’s bidding.

    Only in the event that (a) one didn’t have an objection to the client’s position so as not to (b) take on the client in the first place.

    I don’t know whether Thompson actually represented this client, but a lobbyist is not a lawyer where clients are concerned (and, frankly, neither is required to represent a client they find objectionable). I agree that if this is real there should be some kind of paper trail emerging, but it’s completely believable to me that the dollar would trump “moral principal” in this situation (and I’m not sure there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, given the relatively benign subject matter here).

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  14. Bithead says:

    that they’ll drag this one out of the woodpile tells me that they are downright desperate to get something … anything on the man. They are exerting efforts on Thomson that none of the declared candidates have gotten. They’re worried. Anything that worries the democrats so is worth my support.

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  15. […] at OTB: The big news overnight is the claim by a pro abortion group that it hired Fred Thompson to lobby […]

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  16. ken says:

    That Thompson agreed to lobby for a pro-choice group will lose him some support.

    That Thompson now lies about it and denies he was ever hired by a pro-choice group just compounds his problems.

    And finally that Thompson agreed to work for a pro-choice group, took their money, and then lied to them about what he did to earn that money makes it even worse.

    Now, by rights, all of this should prove him unworthy of consideration for public office. But he is a Republican. We know how Republicans work and how they are less inclined to insist on honesty and integrity for their nominees. All that matters is if they think he can fool the American people into voting for him.

    So it remains an open question just how much, if any, this hurts his chances in the party.

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  17. jpe says:

    To assume that a lawyer always agrees with the clients he represents is not only juvenile, it tends to undercut the premises on which our legal system is based.

    I’m always a little disturbed when Powerline is cited in anything but a mocking context. So, on to the totally obvious counterargument: the legal duty to represent dicey clients with whom the lawyer may disagree is driven by the ethical norm and constitutional rule that everyone is entitled to legal representation.

    Unless there’s a right to a lobbyist that I missed, the Powerline “analysis,” such as it is, is stupid.

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  18. Bithead says:

    Thank you for backing my point, that the Democrats are deathly worried, Ken. Your stridency is the best cross reference my comment could possibly have had.

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  19. jpe says:

    It’s not ken the GOPers have to worry about; it’s SpongeDob and his ilk. And I’d have to imagine they’ll be a little concerned that he’s willing to sell them out for a lobbying fee.

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  20. floyd says:

    Even if he PERFORMED abortions, he would still be a better candidate than any offered by the democrat party.

    Pug, Do you mean to say that Gacy has no lobbyist in Washington, With all the perverted clowns running around in the halls of congress??

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  21. ken says:

    I think what a lot of people are saying is that no matter how unethical Thompson is he is still a Republican and for them that is all that matters.

    We have learned not to expect much from Republicans in the way of honor, dignity, and patriotism, so this comes as no surprise.

    Thompson, liar that he is, may not be the best that Republicans have to offer but he is a typical Republican. That may be enough to get him some support from the party of crazies.

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  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ken

    *****We have learned not to expect much from Republicans in the way of honor, dignity, and patriotism, so this comes as no surprise.*****

    You like Terl, form the book Battlefield Earth need no get a dictionary and look up the words that you know nothing about before you try to use them on behalf of your defence.

    Dude you have got to be a plant to get us fired up there can be no other explanation for extreme lefty madness.

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  23. Pug says:

    Pug, Do you mean to say that Gacy has no lobbyist in Washington, With all the perverted clowns running around in the halls of congress??

    I was trying to make the point that there is a distinct difference between a lobbyist and a lawyer, especially a defense lawyer.

    I understand you are joking, but as far as I am aware, John Wayne Gacy had no lobbyists is Washington, though he did have a nice picture of himself with Mrs. Carter if I remember correctly. Poor Mrs. Carter.

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  24. Tano says:

    Isn’t the ability to lie your way out of sketchy situations a prerequisite for becoming a Republican elected official?

    Maybe Fred is just using this opportunity to prove his worthiness, If he gets away with it, he will go a long way to proving his value to the party.

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  25. floyd says:

    Ken; you are absolutely right,It is enough for those of us who reject the Stalinist rhetoric spewed by the democrat party. The republicans that are elected are the fault of the democrats for not fielding any candidates of value.
    I guess it is still slightly better to have a bad republican in office than a bunch of looney democrats selling shackles, whether they are fur lined and jewel encrusted or not! The price is too high!

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  26. floyd says:

    Pug; of course you were right and of course I was joking[but only about them being actual lobbyists][lol]

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  27. […] American Spectator, Norwegianity, The Atlantic Online, KnoxViews and Redstate, Talking Points Memo, Outside The Beltway, Shakesville, The Carpetbagger Report, Los Angeles Times, Taylor Marsh, The Heretik, […]

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  28. Grewgills says:

    Just when you thought that the blame the Democrats for everything bad even if we did it rhetoric couldn’t go any further, there it is.

    The republicans that are elected are the fault of the democrats for not fielding any candidates of value.

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  29. floyd says:

    Grewgills; Yup! Insightful isn’t it?

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  30. Bithead says:

    Unlike some democrats, I’m not willing to call the American people stupid. They recognize a bad deal when they see one.

    When electing a government, it comes down to an issue of which is the lesser of two evils. In 2004, they looked at the choice between a trophy husband, and George W. Bush, and decided the ladder to be the lesser of the two evils.

    I’m always a little disturbed when Powerline is cited in anything but a mocking context.

    You’ve just told me all I care to know about you.

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  31. FredP says:

    There is an Option 4 and it is the most likely: One or more of the people remember incorrectly or not at all. How many people remember 15 years ago where they were working, what they were working on, what restaurants they visited? I don’t remember the names of any of the lawyers I consulted ten or twenty years ago. When the truth comes out we’ll know whose memory was faulty (i.e. normal). Let’s stop thinking any of them is a liar.

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  32. James Joyner says:

    How many people remember 15 years ago where they were working, what they were working on, what restaurants they visited?

    This isn’t a matter of people not remembering but of having very specific memories. Judith DeSarno has very specific recollections of hiring Fred Thompson–who was already a major player at the time and thus memorable–and of conversations they had and restaurants where they took place. Michael Barnes and others remember specific conversations, too.

    John Sununu says, “I don’t think that ever happened. In fact, I know that never happened.” That’s pretty categorical.

    Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo adamantly denied that Thompson worked for the family planning group. “Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period,” he said in an e-mail.

    Again, that’s categorical. Somebody is lying.

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  33. Thirteenburn says:

    Let’s see here;

    Thompson is a viable threat to the Dem’s chances for the Presidency in ’08. This story was originally written in the L.A. Times (liberal paper), the claims are brought by the head of the Abortion Rights group (liberals), and then “backed up” by another lobbyist for the same group who is a Democrat (LIBERAL!!!).

    Pretty easy to discount the entire claim as crap and therefore proving once again that the liberals collective stupidity is overshadowed only by their mind numbing intellectual dishonesty.

    Fred Thompson has always been one of the most upstanding and honest people in the entire political spectrum. His character is above reproach, unlike the scumbag liberal Democrat party ever could hope to be, therefore this entire story and claim is ridiculous at best and completely immoral at worst.

    Typical liberal tactics when they know that they are losing their supposed hold on Washington. The entire nation has realized that the claims that the Democrat party made to get elected were false then, false now and will always be false in reviewing history for all eternity.

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  34. Michael says:

    Ken and Bithead: Is it possible that we can have a conversation without having to personally insult 50% of Americans?

    G.A.Phillips: Never, ever (ever) reference Battlefield Earth if you want the rest of your comment to be taken seriously. That would be like using a scene from Gigli to support your ideas. Even if the point your are making can be supported by that reference, the baggage contained in those calamities of entertainment will completely distract from it.

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  35. G.A.Phillips says:

    Michael,

    I realize that movie left a trust-ability scare on your Psyche as it did for the rest of us who where fool enough to see it or rent the tape, but I was referring to the book that was quite a good read.

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  36. Bithead says:

    Ken and Bithead: Is it possible that we can have a conversation without having to personally insult 50% of Americans?

    Since half of which you speak is likely to take offense at anything… anything at all… for the purpose of raising the rabble, that seems doubtful.

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  37. Michael says:

    Since half of which you speak is likely to take offense at anything… anything at all… for the purpose of raising the rabble, that seems doubtful.

    I was actually referring to both the 50% that vote Democrat (which you were insulting) and the 50% that vote Republican (which Ken was insulting). Where you also referring to both halves in your comment, or just continuing to insult the same one you have been?

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  38. Bithead says:

    I was actually referring to both the 50% that vote Democrat

    Well, what do you know… so was I.

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  39. […] supports him most, anti-abortionists, but how it’s being portrayed: As I’ve noted from the beginning of this controversy, the issue would seem to be Thompson’s lying in denying it rather than […]

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