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About Fred Thompson, U.S. Senator
Fred Dalton Thompson (born Freddie Dalton Thompson; August 19, 1942), is an American politician, actor, attorney, lobbyist, columnist, and radio host. He served as a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1994 through 2003.
Thompson served as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board at the United States Department of State, was a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Visiting Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, specializing in national security and intelligence.
As an actor, Thompson has appeared in a large number of movies and television shows. He has frequently portrayed governmental figures. In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the long-running NBC television series Law & Order, playing Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch.
In May 2007 he took a break from acting in order to run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. In 2009 he returned to acting with a guest appearance on television series; and is co-starring with Brian Dennehy in the movie Alleged, about the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Early life and education
Thompson was born in Sheffield, Alabama, the son of Ruth Inez (née Bradley, living in 2007 in Franklin, Tennessee) and Fletcher Session Thompson (born Lauderdale County, Alabama, August 26, 1919, died Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, May 27, 1990), who was an automobile salesman. He attended public school in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, graduating from Lawrence County High School. Thereafter, he worked days in the local post office, and nights at the Murray bicycle assembly plant.
Thompson then entered Florence State College (now the University of North Alabama), becoming the first member of his family to go to university. He later transferred to Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis, where he earned a double degree in philosophy and political science in 1964, as well as scholarships to both Tulane and Vanderbilt law schools. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Vanderbilt in 1967.
Career as an attorney
Thompson was admitted to the State Bar of Tennessee in 1967. At that time, he shortened his first name from Freddie to Fred. He worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1969 to 1972, successfully prosecuting bank robberies and other cases. Thompson was the campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senator Howard Baker's reelection campaign in 1972 and was minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in its investigation of the Watergate scandal (1973–1974).
In the 1980s Thompson worked as an attorney, with law offices in Nashville and Washington, DC, handling personal injury claims and defending people accused of white collar crimes. He also accepted appointments as Special Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1980–1981), Special Counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee (1982), and Member of the Appellate Court Nominating Commission for the State of Tennessee (1985–1987).
His clients included a German mining group and Japan's Toyota Motors Corporation. Thompson has served on various corporate boards. He also did legal work and served on the board of directors for engineering firm Stone & Webster.
Role in Watergate hearings
In 1973, Thompson was appointed minority counsel to assist the Republican senators on the Senate Watergate Committee, a special committee convened by the U.S. Senate to investigate the Watergate scandal. Thompson is sometimes credited for supplying Republican Senator Howard Baker's famous question, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" This question is said to have helped frame the hearings in a way that eventually led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
A Republican staff member, Donald Sanders, found out about the White House tapes and informed the committee on July 13, 1973. Thompson was informed of the existence of the tapes, and he in turn informed Nixon's attorney, J. Fred Buzhardt. "Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call Fred Buzhardt at home," Thompson later wrote, "I wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action."
Three days after Sanders' discovery, at a public, televised committee hearing, Thompson asked former White House aide Alexander Butterfield the famous question, "Mr. Butterfield, were you aware of the existence of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?" thereby publicly revealing the existence of tape recordings of conversations within the White House. National Public Radio later called that session and the discovery of the Watergate tapes "a turning point in the investigation."
Thompson's appointment as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee reportedly upset Nixon, who believed Thompson was not skilled enough to interrogate unfriendly witnesses and would be outfoxed by committee Democrats. According to historian Stanley Kutler, however, Thompson and Baker "carried water for the White House, but I have to give them credit — they were watching out for their interests, too... They weren't going to mindlessly go down the tubes [for Nixon]." When the Watergate investigation began to pick up speed, tapes revealed that Nixon remarked to his then-Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, "Oh shit, he's dumb as hell."
Journalist Scott Armstrong, a Democratic investigator for the Senate Watergate Committee, is critical of Thompson for having disclosed the committee's knowledge of the tapes to Buzhardt during an on-going investigation, and says Thompson was "a mole for the White House" and that Thompson's actions gave the White House a chance to destroy the tapes. Thompson's 1975 book At That Point in Time in turn accused Armstrong of having been too close to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and of leaking committee information to him. In response to renewed interest in this matter in 2007 in the context of his presidential campaign, Thompson said, "I'm glad all of this has finally caused someone to read my Watergate book, even though it's taken them over 30 years."
Corruption case against Tennessee governor
In 1977 Thompson represented Marie Ragghianti, a former Tennessee Parole Board chair, who had been fired for refusing to release felons after they had bribed aides to Democratic Governor Ray Blanton in order to obtain clemency. With Thompson's assistance, Ragghianti filed a wrongful termination suit against Blanton's office. During the trial, Thompson helped expose the cash-for-clemency scheme that eventually led to Blanton's removal from office. In July 1978, a jury awarded Ragghianti $38,000 in back pay and ordered her reinstatement.
Thompson lobbied Congress on behalf of the Tennessee Savings and Loan League to pass the Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which deregulated the Savings and Loan industry. A large congressional majority and President Ronald Reagan supported the act but it was said to be a factor that led to the savings and loan crisis. Thompson received $1,600 for communicating with some congressional staffers on this issue.
When Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 1991, Thompson made a telephone call to White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu advocating restoration of Aristide's government, but says that was as a private citizen, not on a paid basis on Aristide's behalf.
Billing records show that Thompson was paid for about 20 hours of work in 1991 and 1992 on behalf of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a family planning group trying to ease a George H. W. Bush administration regulation on abortion counseling in federally-funded clinics.
Thompson has earned about one million dollars from his lobbying efforts. Except for the year 1981, his lobbying never amounted to more than a third of his income. According to the Commercial Appeal newspaper:
Fred Thompson earned about half a million dollars from Washington lobbying from 1975 through 1993....Lobbyist disclosure records show Thompson had six lobbying clients: Westinghouse, two cable television companies, the Tennessee Savings and Loan League, the Teamsters Union's Central States Pension Fund, and a Baltimore-based business coalition that lobbied for federal grants.
After leaving the Senate in 2003, Thompson's only lobbying work was for the London-based reinsurance company Equitas Ltd. He was paid $760,000 between 2004 and 2006 in order to help prevent passage of legislation that Equitas said unfairly singled them out for unfavorable treatment regarding asbestos claims. Thompson spokesman Mark Corrallo said that Thompson was proud to have been a lobbyist and believed in Equitas' cause.
After Thompson was elected to the Senate, two of his sons followed him into the lobbying business, but generally avoided clients where a possible conflict-of-interest might appear. When he left the Senate, some of his political action committee's fees went to the lobbying firm of one of his sons.
Marie Ragghianti's case became the subject of a book, Marie, written by Peter Maas and published in 1983. The film rights were purchased by director Roger Donaldson, who, after traveling to Nashville to speak with the people involved with the original case, asked Thompson if he wanted to play himself. The resulting film, Marie, was Thompson's first acting role and was released in 1985. Roger Donaldson then cast Thompson in the part of CIA Director in the 1987 film No Way Out. Was cast as Trudeau the head of Dulles Airport in the 1990 Action sequel Die Hard 2, Thompson would go on to appear in many films and television shows. A 1994 New York Times profile wrote "When Hollywood directors need someone who can personify governmental power, they often turn to [Thompson]." He has portrayed a fictional president of the United States in Last Best Chance as well as two historical presidents: Ulysses S. Grant in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007) and the voice of Andrew Jackson in Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story (both produced for TV).
In the final months of his U.S. Senate term in 2002, Thompson joined the cast of the long-running NBC television series Law & Order, playing conservative District Attorney Arthur Branch for the next five years. Thompson began filming during the August 2002 Senate recess.
He has also made occasional appearances in the same role on other TV shows, such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and the pilot episode of Conviction. On May 30, 2007, he asked to be released from the role, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. Due to concerns about the equal-time rule, reruns featuring the Branch character were not shown on NBC while Thompson was a potential or actual presidential candidate, but TNT episodes were unaffected.
Two campaigns for U.S. Senate
In 1994, Thompson was elected to finish the remaining two years of Al Gore's unexpired U.S. Senate term. During the 1994 campaign, Thompson's opponent was longtime Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. Thompson campaigned in a red pickup truck, and Cooper charged Thompson "is a lobbyist and actor who talks about lower taxes, talks about change, while he drives a rented stage prop." In a good year for Republican candidates, Thompson defeated Cooper in a landslide, overcoming Cooper's early 20 percent lead in the polls to defeat him by an even greater margin. On the same night Thompson was elected to fill Gore's unexpired term, political newcomer Bill Frist, a Nashville heart surgeon, defeated three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Sasser, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, for Tennessee's other Senate seat, which was up for a full six-year term. The twin victories by Thompson and Frist gave Republicans control of both of Tennessee's Senate seats for the first time since Sasser ousted incumbent Bill Brock in 1976.
In 1996, Thompson was re-elected (for the term ending January 3, 2003) with 61 percent of the vote, defeating Democratic attorney Houston Gordon of Covington, Tennessee, even as Bill Clinton and running mate Gore narrowly carried the state by less than three percentage points on their way to re-election. During this campaign, Mike Long served as Thompson's chief speechwriter. The GOP continues to hold the seat, as it was won by former Tennessee Governor and Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in 2002. Frist won re-election in 2000 before retiring in 2006, when Bob Corker held the seat for the Republicans despite the Democrats winning control of the House and Senate.
In 1996, Thompson was a member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs when the committee investigated the alleged Chinese attempts to influence American politics. Thompson says he was "largely stymied" during these investigations by witnesses declining to testify; claiming the right not to incriminate themselves or by simply leaving the country. Thompson explained, "Our work was affected tremendously by the fact that Congress is a much more partisan institution than it used to be."
Thompson became committee chairman in 1997 but was reduced to ranking minority member when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2001. Thompson served on the Finance Committee (dealing with health care, trade, Social Security, and taxation) the Intelligence Committee, and the National Security Working Group.
Thompson's work included investigation of the "Umm Hajul controversy" which involved the death of Tennessean Lance Fielder during the Gulf War. During his term he supported campaign finance reform, opposed proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoted government efficiency and accountability. During the 1996 presidential debates, he also served as a Clinton stand-in to help prepare Bob Dole.
On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted on the Clinton impeachment. The perjury charge was defeated with 45 votes for conviction, and 55, including Thompson, against. The obstruction of justice charge was defeated with 50, including Thompson, for conviction, and 50 against. Conviction on impeachment charges requires the affirmative votes of 67 senators.
Campaign co-chairman for John McCain
In the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, Thompson backed former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who eventually succeeded Thompson in the Senate two years later. When Alexander dropped out, Thompson endorsed Senator John McCain's bid and became his national co-chairman. After George W. Bush won the primaries, both McCain and Thompson were considered as potential running mates.
Thompson was not a candidate for re-election in 2002. He had publicly stated his unwillingness to have the Senate become a long-term career. Although he announced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks his intention to seek re-election ("Now is not the time for me to leave," said Thompson at the time), upon further reflection he decided against it. The decision seems to have been prompted in large part by the death of his daughter.
Thompson has an 86.1 percent lifetime (1995–2002) American Conservative Union vote rating, compared to 89.3 for Bill Frist and 82.3 for John McCain. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) characterized her colleague this way: "I believe that Fred is a fearless senator. By that I mean he was never afraid to cast a vote or take a stand, regardless of the political consequences." Thompson was "on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes," voting against those who wanted to federalize matters that he believed were properly left to state and local officials.
With Thompson's decision to campaign for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, his Senate record has received some criticism from people who say he was "lazy" compared to other Senators. Critics say that few of his proposals became law, and point to a 1998 quote: "I don't like spending 14- and 16-hour days voting on 'sense of the Senate' resolutions on irrelevant matters. There are some important things we really need to get on with—and on a daily basis, it's very frustrating." Defenders say he spent more time in preparation than other Senators. Paul Noe, a former staffer, told the New York Times, "On the lazy charge, I have to chuckle because I was there sometimes until 1 in the morning working with the man."
In March 2003, Thompson was featured in a commercial by the conservative non-profit group Citizens United that advocated the invasion of Iraq, stating: "When people ask what has Saddam done to us, I ask, what had the 9/11 hijackers done to us -- before 9/11."
Thompson did voice-over work at the 2004 Republican National Convention. While narrating a video for that convention, Thompson observed: "History throws you what it throws you, and you never know what’s coming."
After the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005, Bush appointed Thompson to an informal position to help guide the nomination of John Roberts through the United States Senate confirmation process. Roberts was subsequently confirmed as Chief Justice.
Until July 2007, Thompson was Chair of the International Security Advisory Board, a bipartisan advisory panel that reports to the Secretary of State and focuses on emerging strategic threats. In that capacity, he advised the State Department about all aspects of arms control, disarmament, international security, and related aspects of public diplomacy.
Legal defense for Lewis Libby
In 2006, he served on the advisory board of the legal defense fund for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr, who was indicted and later convicted of lying to federal investigators during their investigation of the Plame affair. Thompson, who had never met Libby before volunteering for the advisory board, said he was convinced Libby was innocent. The Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund Trust set out to raise more than $5 million to help finance the legal defense of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Thompson hosted a fundraiser for the Libby defense fund at his home in McLean, Virginia. After Bush commuted Libby's sentence, Thompson released a statement: "I am very happy for Scooter Libby. I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife and children. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."
In 2006, he signed on with ABC News Radio to serve as senior analyst and vacation replacement for Paul Harvey. He used that platform to spell out his positions on a number of political issues. A July 3, 2007 update to Thompson's ABC News Radio home page referred to him as a "former ABC News Radio contributor", indicating that Thompson has been released from his contract with the broadcaster. He did not return after his campaign ended.
He also signed a deal with Salem Communications's Townhall.com to write for the organization's new magazine, Townhall, from April 23, 2007 until August 21, 2007, and from June 8, 2008 until November 17, 2008.
2008 Presidential campaign
On March 11, 2007, Thompson appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss the possibility of a 2008 candidacy for president. At the end of March, Thompson asked to be released from his television contract, potentially in preparation for a presidential bid. Thompson formed a presidential exploratory committee regarding his possible 2008 campaign for president on June 1, 2007, but unlike most candidate exploratory groups, Thompson's organized as a 527 group.
Thompson continued to be mentioned as a potential candidate, but did not officially declare his candidacy. On June 12, Thompson told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that while he did not crave the Presidency itself, there were things he would like to do that he could only do by holding that office. A New York Times article cited Thompson's aides as saying on July 18 that he planned to enter the race just after Labor Day (the first Monday in September), followed by a national announcement tour.
On September 5, 2007, Thompson made his candidacy official, announcing on The Tonight Show that "I'm running for president of the United States" and running an ad during a Republican Presidential candidates debate on Fox News. In both cases he pointed people to his campaign website to watch a 15-minute video detailing his platform. His campaign entrance was described as "lackluster" and "awkward" despite high expectations in anticipation of his joining the race.
In nationwide polling toward the end of 2007, Thompson's support in the Republican primary election was sliding, with his placing either third or fourth in polls. Starting with the South Carolina Primary, however, he was more aggressively challenging his rivals until finishing third in that primary.
On January 22, 2008, after attracting little support in the early primaries, Thompson confirmed he had withdrawn from the Presidential race. In a statement issued by his campaign, Thompson said:
Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.
Thompson has signed an agreement to be returned as an actor with the William Morris Agency.
He spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on September 2 in Minnesota, and described in graphic detail presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during his imprisonment and gave an endorsement of McCain for President.
In 2009 he returned to acting with a guest appearance on the ABC television series Life on Mars.
On March 2, 2009 he took over on Westwood One's east coast noon time slot, hosting the talk radio program The Fred Thompson Show, after Bill O'Reilly ended The Radio Factor. It was co-hosted for a time by his wife, Jeri. Thompson's final show for Westwood One was aired on January 21, 2011. Douglas Urbanski took Thompson's place in the Westwood One syndication lineup.
In May 2010, Thompson became an advertising spokesman for American Advisors Group (AAG), a reverse mortgage lender.
Thompson has said that federalism is his "lodestar", which provides "a basis for a proper analysis of most issues: 'Is this something government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?'"
Thompson states "Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad medical science," and that judges should not be determining social policy. Thompson has also stated the government should not criminally prosecute women who undergo early term abortions.
Thompson does not support a federal ban on gay marriage, but would support a constitutional amendment to keep one state's recognition of such marriages from resulting in all states having to recognise them.
Thompson says citizens are entitled to keep and bear arms if they do not have criminal records and the Gun Owners of America says that he voted pro-gun in 20 of 33 gun-related votes during his time in the Senate.
Thompson says U.S. borders need to be secured before considering comprehensive immigration reform, but he also supports a path to citizenship for illegal aliens saying “You’re going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship, but not make it so easy that it’s unfair to the people waiting in line and abiding by the law.” Thompson supported the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq and is opposed to withdrawing troops, but believes "mistakes have been made" since the invasion.
Thompson initially supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, but now says certain parts should be repealed.
Thompson is skeptical that human efforts cause global warming and has pointed to parallel warming on Mars and other planets as an example.
Marriages and children
In September 1959, at the age of 17, Thompson married Sarah Elizabeth Lindsey. Their son, Freddie Dalton "Tony" Thompson Jr., was born in April 1960. Another son and a daughter were born soon thereafter. While Thompson was attending law school, both he and his wife worked to pay for his education and support their three children.
The couple divorced in 1985. They have two surviving children, as well as five grandchildren. Thompson's daughter Elizabeth "Betsy" Thompson Panici died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on January 30, 2002.
Prior to his second marriage, Thompson had been romantically linked to country singer Lorrie Morgan, Republican fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher and columnist Margaret Carlson.
In July 1996, Thompson began dating Jeri Kehn (b. 1966) and the two married almost six years later on June 29, 2002. When Thompson was asked in a December 2007 Associated Press survey of the candidates to name his favorite possession, he humorously replied "trophy wife". The couple have two children, a daughter and a son.
Thompson has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), a form of cancer. "I have had no illness from it, or even any symptoms. My life expectancy should not be affected. I am in remission, and it is very treatable with drugs if treatment is needed in the future — and with no debilitating side effects," Thompson said. Like many patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Thompson received treatment with Rituxan. Thompson's cancer, though currently incurable, is reportedly indolent, the lowest of three grades of NHL. The cancer is nodal marginal zone lymphoma, a rare form of NHL, that accounts for only one to three percent of all cases.
Thompson was raised in the Churches of Christ. According to Thompson, his values come from "sitting around the kitchen table" with his parents, and from the Church of Christ. While talking to reporters in South Carolina, Thompson said, "I attend church when I'm in Tennessee. I'm [living] in McLean right now. I don't attend regularly when I'm up there." On occasion, Thompson attends Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He did not speak much about his religion during his campaign saying, "Me getting up and talking about what a wonderful person I am and that sort of thing, I'm not comfortable with that, and I don't think it does me any good."