Fred Thompson: Watergate Hero Turned Plamegate Villain
As Republicans await with baited breadth the signal that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is jumping into the 2008 presidential race, more ironic revelations concerning the politician-turned-actor continue to surface. As it turns out, the Watergate hero who helped reveal Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up is now helping Scooter Libby facilitate his Plamegate smoke-screen.
To follow Thompson's evolution from nonpartisan truth seeker to Republican shill, take a trip back to the Senate Watergate hearings of 1973 and 1974. As I rediscovered while researching a piece on the Republicans' now-ubiquitous "criminalization of politics" scandal defense, it was a committee Republican staff attorney Fred Thompson who posed the question to White House aide Alexander Butterfield that unraveled the Watergate cover-up and effectively ended the Nixon presidency:
THOMPSON: "Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?"
BUTTERFIELD: "I was aware of listening devices, yes sir."
The recordings in the Nixon White House ended almost immediately. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward 30 years to Plamegate, a new Republican scandal featuring a cover-up of presidential wrongdoing and White House criminality. In July 2003, members of the Bush administration, desperate to refute Ambassador Joe Wilson's debunking of its claim that Iraq sought uranium in Niger, revealed the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Four years later, former Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby was convicted on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Sadly, this time Fred Thompson has joined the dark side in this new Republican cover-up. A quick glance at the web site of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust reveals that among its advisory committee members is none other than Fred Thompson. And much more than merely lending his name to a convicted felon, Thompson is hosting fundraisers and penning screeds calling for a pardon. As recently as May 12th, Thompson offered a full-throated defense of Libby, regurgitating every GOP falsehood in smearing the Wilsons:
"After years of sacrifice and service to his country, he sits at home with his wife and two children awaiting a prison sentence. His name is Scooter Libby.
As you may recall, for some inexplicable reason, the CIA sent the husband of one of its employees to Niger on a sensitive mission. She had suggested it. He came back to the U.S. and proceeded to publicly blast the administration. Naturally, everyone wanted to know 'who is this guy?' and 'why was he sent to Niger?' Just as naturally, the fact that he was married to Valerie Plame at the CIA was leaked.
Having virtually guaranteed that Ms. Plame's identity would be ultimately disclosed by using her, shall we say, 'politically active' husband, the CIA then demanded that this leak of her name be investigated by the Justice Department for a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The Justice Department, bowing to political and media pressure, appointed a Special Counsel to investigate the leak and promised that the Justice Department would exercise no supervision over him whatsoever - a status even the Attorney General does not have.
The only problem with this little scenario was that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody - the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a 'covered person' under the statute and it was obvious from the outset."
All of which makes Thompson such an attractive 2008 standard bearer for many in his party. Like so many Republicans, Fred Thompson apparently no longer believes in law and order.
UPDATE 1: The Washington Post reports that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is calling for a sentence of up to three years for Libby. Fred Thompson might want to note Fitzgerald's words to the judge:
"The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system. He has shown no regret for his actions, which significantly impeded the investigation."
UPDATE 2: As it turns out, in my ignorance I gave Fred Thompson far too much credit for his role during Watergate. As the Boston Globe and others detailed in July, Thompson was in fact a mole for the Nixon White House, doing its bidding on the Senate Watergate Committee despite the President's concern that Thompson was not "very smart."