As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fred Thompson, Abortion Rights Lobbyist

H/t to Kevin Drum for alerting me to this candidacy-ending story about Fred Thompson's former work as an insider Washington lobbyist. Like most lobbyists, he was a hired gun, and if the money was green, he didn't give a crap what he was shilling. Including one or two causes that are going to hurt him in a Republican primary.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred D. Thompson, who is campaigning for president as a "pro-life" Republican, accepted a lobbying assignment from a family-planning group to persuade the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction, according to a 1991 document and five people familiar with the matter [...]

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 receive federal money, according to the records and the five people who worked on the matter.

The abortion "gag rule" was a major political flashpoint at the time. Thompson's lobbying would clash directly with the anti-abortion movement that he is now trying to rally behind his campaign for president.

It's always interesting to see how a Presidential campaign reacts to their first major hit to their candidacy. You might remember that Rudy Giuliani responded to the first major criticism of his campaign, from firefighters who questioned his commitment to them obefore, during and after 9/11, by assembling a made-up front group called "Firefighters for Rudy" that was essentially one person and a fax machine. For Thompson, his tactic is to essentially do a version of the Monty Python Argument Sketch:

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.

In a telephone interview, he added: "There's no documents to prove it, there's no billing records, and Thompson says he has no recollection of it, says it didn't happen." In a separate interview, John Sununu, the White House official whom Thompson was hired to contact, said he had no memory of any lobbying and doubted it took place.

Well that sounds air-tight. Guess the LA Times got this one wrong. Nothing to see h-

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

Minutes of the board's meeting of Sept. 14, 1991, a copy of which DeSarno gave to The Times, say: "Judy [DeSarno] reported that the Association had hired Fred Thompson, Esq., as counsel to aid us in discussions with the Administration'' on the abortion-counseling rule.

Former Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland, a colleague at the lobbying and law firm where Thompson worked, said DeSarno had asked him to recommend someone for the lobbying work, and that he had suggested that she hire 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, a Democrat. "I have strong, total recollection of that. This is not something I dreamed up or she dreamed up. This is fact."

DeSarno said Thompson reported to her, after being hired, that he had held multiple conversations about the abortion "gag rule" with Sununu, who was then the White House chief of staff and the president's point man on the abortion rule.

Er... Thompson, we have a problem.

Man: Is this the right room for an argument?
Mr Vibrating: I've told you once.
Man: No you haven't.
Mr Vibrating: Yes I have.
Man: When?
Mr Vibrating: Just now!
Man: No you didn't.
Mr Vibrating: Yes I did!
Man: Didn't.
Mr Vibrating: Did.
Man: Didn't.
Mr Vibrating: I'm telling you I did!
Man: You did not!
Mr Vibrating: I'm sorry, is this a five minute argument, or the full half hour?

DeSarno recounts entire conversations and idiosyncratic stories like Thompson re-enacting scenes from movies to her. That Sununu denies any conversation gives Thompson two options: either Sununu and him are lying, or Thompson was in the habit, as a lobbyist, of taking money from organizations and pretending to lobby for them while sitting on his ass. I wouldn't be surprised by either.

This is a long and well-sourced article that will be a major blow to Thompson's efforts to cast himself as the rock-ribbed conservative to the crowd who will decide the GOP nomination. And the way in which Thompson is reacting to the story, by denying it ever happened, doesn't bode well for his campaign will react in the crucible of 21st-century politics.

Suddenly, he doesn't scare me so much.

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