Thompson lobbied the Bush the First White House on behalf of an abortion-rights group, and now he’s lying about it. Or, in the alternative, he billed for work he never did.
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.
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 H. Sununu, the White House official whom the family planning group wanted to contact, said he had no memory of the lobbying and doubted it took place.
But Judith DeSarno, who was president of the family planning association in 1991, said Thompson lobbied for the group for several months.
Minutes from 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 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 one of Thompson’s sons 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.”
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.
Corallo, the spokesman for Thompson, was asked Friday about the board minutes and the five people who said they recalled Thompson accepting the lobbying assignment. He responded in an e-mail, saying that Thompson “may have been consulted by one of [his] firm’s partners who represented this group in 1991.”
Corallo said it was “not unusual for one lawyer on one side of an issue to be asked to give advice to colleagues for clients who engage in conduct or activities with which they personally disagree.”
In recent weeks, Thompson has described himself as fundamentally “pro-life,” saying the issue has “meant a little more to me” since seeing the sonogram of his now-3-year-old daughter.
In addition to Barnes and DeSarno, three other people said they recalled Thompson lobbying against the rule on behalf of the family planning association.
Update Unlike the Giuliani-Iraq Study Group story or the Thompson-as-Nixon’s-Mole story, this one has legs. John Hinderaker, Chief Power Tool, shows the lengths to which the remaining Bushoid dead-enders will go to prevent the election of a Democrat in 2008. He takes the perfectly reasonable principle that a criminal defense attorney may ethically defend people whose conduct is morally indefensible, adds to it the fact that Thompson was a lawyer as well as a lobbyist, and arrives at the absurd conclusion that a lobbyist has no ethical responsibility for the positions he takes on behalf of his clients.
Lobbying is an honorable profession: legislators and regulators can’t possibly research, ab initio, all of the myriad issues they are called on to address. Of necessity, they rely in part on parties who have the expertise, and, equally important, the interest to lay out facts, make arguments, and try to sway them to their point of view. This is an essential part of the democratic process, and a good lobbyist makes a valuable contribution to our legislative system, just as a good lawyer makes a valuable contribution to our judicial system, no matter what clients he represents.
Hinderaker doesn’t mention the lying-about-it aspect of the story, beyond asserting (on no evidence whatever) that Thompson “had done a nominal amount of work” for NFPRHA.
If this is the best Thompson’s defenders can do, I’d say the Good Ship Thompson has been holed below the waterline.