Fred Thompson Backs Off From Abortion Lobbying Denial

Fred Thompson seems to backhandedly acknowledge that the claims that he lobbied for an abortion rights group on a tangential matter, at first denied by his spokesman, are true in a guest column at the Power Line blog. He doesn’t address the charges head-on but notes that lawyers who run for office are often tarred by opponents with the sins of their clients. This paragraph, in particular, stood out:

The practice of law is a business as well as a profession. It’s the way you support your family. And if a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him. In almost 30 years of practicing law I must have had hundreds of clients and thousands of conversations about legal matters. Like any good lawyer, I would always try to give my best, objective, and professional opinion on any legal question presented to me.

That’s right as far as it goes. It’s at the essence of our adversarial system of justice.

It’s a bit disingenuous, though, in the case of a lawyer acting, not as a defense counsel for a criminal attorney, but as a lobbyist for a political group. I’ve got some friends in the lobbying business and it’s true that they are occasionally forced to advocate views they find offensive. It goes with the territory if you’re a young kid trying to make a living. At the level of a celebrity lawyer hired by the firm to drum up business, though, one surely has some discretion.

That said, though, it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the charges against Thompson are true. It would be hypocritical for a staunch pro-life candidate to have lobbied on some substantive matter for the pro abortion position, especially at the point in his career when he had the luxury of standing on principle. But Thompson’s views on abortion law have always been somewhat nuanced and the matter that he was allegedly lobbying for — a relaxation of the so-called “gag rule” which prevented government sponsored clinics from even discussing abortion as an option — is hardly a cornerstone issue.

The problem, as I noted in my initial post on this issue, is one of integrity. Issuing false denials that one has done something that, in retrospect, might be a little embarrassing and require explaining, is not what a straight talking, straight shooting, regular guy conservative (or, indeed, any honest person) does.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    Yes. Well argued points.

    I however, might be a bit more blunt.
    His first instinct here was to lie.
    Shouldn’t that be the end of him?

  2. floyd says:

    Tano; Then what do you want to do with the other 536?

  3. Billy says:

    It’s a bit disingenuous, though, in the case of a lawyer acting, not as a defense counsel for a criminal attorney, but as a lobbyist for a political group. I’ve got some friends in the lobbying business and it’s true that they are occasionally forced to advocate views they find offensive. It goes with the territory if you’re a young kid trying to make a living. At the level of a celebrity lawyer hired by the firm to drum up business, though, one surely has some discretion.

    This is absolutely true, and the distinction is a salient one.

    Further, I agree that the substance of the “scandal” here is really a nothing case. It evidences more about the right-wing base that Thompson’s opponents would apparently consider this newsworthy than it does about Thompson himself.

    His first instinct here was to lie.

    This, however, is a lot more damaging to ol’ Fred. Why couldn’t he just have explained it very rationally, as he’s doing by explaining the position he seems to be backing into now? Was a disingenous and (it is now appearing) patently false denial on the record really necessary?

  4. legion says:

    Why couldn’t he just have explained it very rationally, as he’s doing by explaining the position he seems to be backing into now?

    Because if he had actually separated his personal views from those of his clients, then he & the other GOP folks couldn’t do things like berate John Edwards for being a Trial Lawyer.

  5. jpe says:

    the matter that he was allegedly lobbying for — a relaxation of the so-called “gag rule” which prevented government sponsored clinics from even discussing abortion as an option — is hardly a cornerstone issue.

    The religious right sees it differently, I think. My pops, for example, is a staunch religious righty. He doesn’t object to abortion as a legal matter, but strenuously objects to any government participation or sanction. And, from what I gather from the religious righty sites I trawl, that’s not an uncommon sentiment.

  6. Winghunter says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy candidate advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

  7. James Joyner says:

    The religious right sees it differently, I think.

    True, true. My point is that Thompson is not a black and white guy on this issue and never has been. So lobbying for these folks on this issue would not necessarily amount to hypocrisy.

  8. Perhaps this incident will teach folks not to jump out to Thompson’s defense when they really don’t know if he deserves defending or not.

    The truth of the situation with Thompson is that we (i.e., the public) don’t know all that much about the man and so to assume media conspiracies (as was the reaction of many when this story broke) was quite premature.