Thompson Lobbied for Abortion Group, Billing Records Show

Billing records from his old firm show that Fred Thompson spent nearly twenty hours working with the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

Fred Thompson Lied About Abortion Lobbying Erik S. Lesser/WorldPictureNetwork Fred Thompson represented a group that sought to ease restrictive rules on abortion counseling. According to records from Arent Fox, the law firm based in Washington where Mr. Thompson worked part-time from 1991 to 1994, he charged the organization, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, about $5,000 for work he did in 1991 and 1992. The records show that Mr. Thompson, a probable Republican candidate for president in 2008, spent much of that time in telephone conferences with the president of the group, and on three occasions he reported lobbying administration officials on its behalf.

[…]

Earlier this month, Mr. Thompson disputed accounts by the group’s former president and others, saying through a spokesman that he had “no recollection” of doing anything to aid the group’s efforts to overturn a rule banning federally financed clinics from dispensing information about abortion to pregnant women. At most, said Mr. Thompson’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, he “may have been consulted by one of the firm’s partners who represented this group.”

Yesterday, Mr. Corallo said the family planning group was an Arent Fox client. “The firm consulted with Fred Thompson,” he said. “It is not unusual for a lawyer to give counsel at the request of colleagues, even when they personally disagree with the issue.”

[…]

The billing records from Arent Fox show that Mr. Thompson, who charged about $250 an hour, spoke 22 times with Judith DeSarno, who was then president of the family planning group. In addition, he lobbied “administration officials” for a total of 3.3 hours, the records show, although they do not specify which officials he met with or what was said. The billing records, along with meeting minutes from the association, show that Arent Fox was hired to help overturn the ban.

As I’ve noted from the beginning of this controversy, the issue would seem to be Thompson’s lying in denying it rather than hypocrisy. Indeed, it’s rather clear that his actual “lobbying” activity on the part of the group was rather minimal — a mere 3.3 hours. But it’s simply implausible that one would fail to recollect 22 phones calls with the woman making the accusations one is denying.

The story itself is rather innocuous; that his first instinct was to lie about it, though, says something about the man’s character. My guess is that this won’t seriously damage his candidacy. After all, most people think “lying politician” is redundant. Still, to the extent that Thompson’s appeal is that he’s not a professional politician, this hurts.

One odd thing about today’s report is that, though it repeatedly mentions Thompson’s earlier denials, it neglects to mention that he essentially admitted that he worked for the group a week ago. Today’s story, then, is not a big scoop; it merely closes the loop on the story.

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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. markm says:

    If I were a “lobbyist” (and i’m not) and I spent 3.3hrs with a client over 14 months…well, I wouldn’t be much of a “lobbyist”.. or i’d better have hundreds of clientèle to earn a paycheck.

  2. not the senator says:

    As I said when this first came out, it’s the lying and coverup that will hurt Thompson more than the lobbying if the story turned out to be true.

    When he give categorical denials and called DeSarno a partisan liar and then it turns out she was correct and you were the one being dishonest, it doesn’t reflect well on Thompson’s character. What else is he willing to say to get elected?

  3. zara says:

    According to the article, all he said personally was that he had no recollection. How do we know that was a lie? I’m sure Thompson worked on a heck of a lot of different matters 15 years ago. And, anyone who has worked for a law firm knows that there will be detailed records showing precisely who he worked for and for how long; thus, it would have been an utterly nonsensical lie. It sounds more like his spokesman got a little carried away.

  4. Beldar says:

    You’re being very, very sloppy — and it’s unlike you, Dr. Joyner.

    The billing records arguably contradict something a Thompson campaign spokesman, Mark Corallo, said when the LAT story first broke. Even that contradiction, however, can be explained as something other than a “lie.”

    What Sen. Thompson has himself personally denied is that he lobbied John Sununu, who the abortion rights organization people claim was the target of the lobbying engagement. Sununu also has denied having any recollection of Thompson contacting him, and the billing records apparently don’t have any indication that it was Sununu.

    I strongly urge you to reserve powerful conclusions like “lied” to situations in which we’ve got a affirmative, unequivocal statement by the candidate himself. If you have one to support your use of the term “lied” this time, you haven’t quoted or linked it, and I’m unaware of it.

  5. James Joyner says:

    The billing records arguably contradict something a Thompson campaign spokesman, Mark Corallo, said when the LAT story first broke. Even that contradiction, however, can be explained as something other than a “lie.”

    C’mon, Bill. This isn’t something a spokesman — a professional hired by Thompson to communicate with the media — is going to answer off the cuff. Clearly, he ran this past the candidate first.

    He denied the whole thing, categorically. Yet, the records show that Thompson personally made 22 phone calls to the woman who made the charges he denied and further billed 3.3 hours for actual lobbying work. There’s simply no way the denial is an honest misunderstanding.

  6. A.S. says:

    “But it’s simply implausible that one would fail to recollect 22 phones calls with the woman making the accusations one is denying.”

    It is? I think it is perfectly plausible, 14 years after the fact. You must have an amazing memory, Mr. Joyner.

    I’m not a fan of Fred Thompson, but this is a stretch.

  7. Beldar says:

    “Lying” is a very, very serious accusation.

    Yet you’re making guesses based on press summaries of documents we haven’t seen, based on NYT reporting about them (and we all know the NYT never makes mistakes?), and comparisons of those against a mish-mash of written and oral statements by the candidate and others in a variety of settings and contexts (again, assuming scrupulous and thorough reporting).

    Even the records themselves don’t necessarily provide conclusive answers. I don’t hold law firm billing records in quite the same regard that I do gospel, because I know just how often they’re screwed up, or compiled second-hand by a secretary or a paralegal making guesses from inconclusive source documents (rather than reflecting personal knowledge).

    Some of the terminology here is also incredibly slippery. If the context of Corallo’s follow-up phone call with the LAT, for example, was about “lobbying” Sununu or other top officials, then that’s something that might well have been categorically denied, truthfully and in good faith, and after checking with the candidate and doing some due diligence.

    And yet that might have happened without anyone ever wondering, “Hmm, did perhaps a phone call ever get made to the second assistant junior staffer to find out if the conference committee had transmitted back to the Senate subcommittee the minority report on the supplemental HHS appropriations bill as amended?” Yet exactly that sort of phone call might have ended up as a 0.1 hour entry in Thompson’s scribbled work records as “TC lobbying.”

    You’re not just making small jumps in your assumptions, you’re making huge leaps, and then drawing inferences as to intentions on top of that. That’s not like you, and it’s unfair. Being this eager to jump to conclusions can turn you into someone’s useful tool, and I know you don’t want that.